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Federal judge rules Trump border wall declaration unlawful

Diversion of military funds violates fiscal 2018 omnibus spending law

A section of the border wall stretches through the Rio Grande Valley sector of the Texas border on Aug. 20, 2019. (Photo by Jinitzail Hernández/CQ Roll Call)
A section of the border wall stretches through the Rio Grande Valley sector of the Texas border on Aug. 20, 2019. (Photo by Jinitzail Hernández/CQ Roll Call)

A federal judge ruled Friday that President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration to divert military funding to a southern border wall is unlawful.

In a 33-page ruling, U.S. District Judge David Briones said Trump’s effort to divert more than $6 billion that Congress provided for military projects violates the fiscal 2019 omnibus spending law. 

In that measure, Congress provided only $1.375 billion for border barriers that were to be limited to the “Rio Grande Valley Sector” of Texas. Briones noted that none of the funds appropriated by the law could be used for the construction of pedestrian fencing “in any of the five other areas of the border.”

The administration has argued that Trump could use executive authority to respond to a national emergency and divert funding to extend the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The wall was one of key promises Trump made during his presidential election. But Briones said Trump couldn’t divert money Congress provided for military construction and counterdrug operations when it would violate a specific statute of the appropriations law, known as the Consolidated Appropriations Act.

“Here we have far more than ‘indicia’ or legislative history establishing Congressional expectations as to how the funds are spent: the plain text of the CAA restricts the amount and location of funding for border barrier construction,” Briones wrote.

But the ruling was not the final word on the matter. Instead, Briones said he would allow both sides to argue about the scope of an injunction in the next two weeks. And the Justice Department, which has appealed other border wall rulings, is likely to do so in this case.

The suit was brought by El Paso County, Texas, and the Border Network for Human Rights, a human rights and immigration advocacy group that represents more than 7,000 members in Texas and New Mexico.

“We are elated that Texas federal court sided with us in handing a judgment based on justice and common sense,” said Fernando Garcia, the advocacy group’s executive director, in a statement. “This decision today will prevent the transfer of these funds by the Defense Department for the construction of this useless and illegal border wall. There is no emergency at the border. This action was based on a distortion of the reality on the ground.”

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