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Appeals court lifts block of funding for border wall

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

A U.S. appeals court has issued a stay on a lower court ruling that had blocked the Trump administration from reallocating $3.6 billion in federal military funds to construct a wall along the nation’s border with Mexico.

In a 2-1 decision late Wednesday, the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals placed a temporarily halt on a Dec. 10 ruling by a federal judge in El Paso, Texas, that barred the transfer.

The court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court had stayed an injunction last July by a federal judge in California over a similar border wall case. It also said there was a “substantial likelihood” that the plaintiffs in the case, the City of El Paso and the Border Network for Human Rights, lacked legal standing to sue the Trump administration over its attempt to take Pentagon funds and steer them toward the construction of the border wall.

The plaintiffs had argued that the president overstepped his executive authority when he issued a national emergency declaration last February to reallocate existing funds and put them toward building his long-promised border wall.

On Thursday, the White House described the latest decision as “a victory for the rule of law.”

“We are committed to keeping our borders secure, and we will finish the wall,” it said in a statement.

Building a wall along the southwest border was one of Trump’s biggest campaign pledges during the 2016 presidential election. On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to crack down on illegal immigration and said a border wall would deter migrants from unlawfully entering the county. However, Democrats have fought Trump at every step from fulfilling his pledge to build the wall.

Last February, following a partial government shutdown, the Trump administration declared a national emergency to allocate up to $6.7 billion in previously appropriated funds from other government departments toward wall construction. The declaration came after Congress only appropriated $1.375 billion for fiscal 2019 to build border barriers.

The funding for the border wall for fiscal 2020 was at the same level as fiscal 2019, falling short of Trump’s $5 billion request.

Immigration advocacy groups following the case criticized the latest ruling.

Jerry Taylor, president of the Niskanen Center, a Washington think tank, said that allowing Trump to spend money he took without congressional approval “only incentivizes this lawless behavior.”

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