Lawyers representing the US House of Representatives on Tuesday filed a motion in federal court to block funding for the construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border, which President Donald Trump had planned to fund primarily using Department of Defense money.
“Absent this Court’s timely intervention, defendants are poised to begin construction on the border wall next month, using funds that Congress declined to appropriate for that purpose,” the motion reads.
“This Court should therefore issue a preliminary injunction to prevent that irreparable injury to the House.”
Trump had planned to fund the wall’s construction using money appropriated under an emergency declaration he issued in February. By invoking the National Emergencies Act, the president can gain access to sources of funding otherwise unavailable to him. The 1976 act does not contain a specific definition of what constitutes a “national emergency.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement Feb. 15 opposing Trump’s emergency declaration.
“We are deeply concerned about the President’s action to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, which circumvents the clear intent of Congress to limit funding of a wall,” read a joint statement from USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, who leads the USCCB’s migration committee.
In their statement, DiNardo and Vasquez said the wall is a “symbol of division and animosity” between the United States and Mexico.
Following Trump’s emergency declaration, the Democrat-controlled House sued Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the executive branch, claiming the president’s decision to transfer Defense Department funds to fund the border wall violated the clause of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to designate federal spending.
Congress passed a spending package earlier this year— which Trump signed, ending a 35-day government shutdown— appropriating $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new barriers in the Rio Grande Valley sector. Trump had requested $5.7 billion.
The House’s motion notes that the Executive Branch has already transferred $1 billion in Defense Department money to the military’s Drug Interdiction and Counterdrug Activities fund, with plans to transfer $2.5 billion more. In addition, $3.6 billion will be reallocated to fund the wall from Department of Defense military construction projects, as well as $600 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund. The Executive Branch has already awarded contracts for construction of the wall, set to begin next month.
The motion asserts that the 2019 Department of Defense Appropriations Act only authorizes transfers for “higher priority items, based on unforeseen military requirements” and “in no case where the item for which funds are requested has been denied by the Congress.”
“The House is unaware of any other instance in American history where a President has declared a national emergency to obtain funding after having failed to win Congressional approval for an appropriation,” the motion reads.
U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden has not yet set a date for a hearing on the House’s motion.
There are at least two lawsuits against Trump’s funding decision still pending. In one, 16 states are challenging the president’s actions, while another suit was brought by the Sierra Club and a border-communities group, according to Politico.
A judge in Oakland, California has agreed to hear motions for injunctions in those suits May 17, Politico reports.
Bishops of dioceses along both sides of the border have said that the additional construction of a wall would pose dangers to migrants and would create unnecessary divisions in societies that have transcended countries’ borders.
Although “the Church has long recognized the first right of persons not to migrate, but to stay in their community of origin,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas wrote in 2017, “when that has become impossible, the Church also recognizes the right to migrate.”