President Trump has declared a national emergency on the Mexican border in a move to access billions of dollars previously unobtainable to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. Critics have voiced concern over the president's latest move, which appears to clash with the separation of powers doctrine.
The United States Constitution splits the United States government into three distinct branches: the legislature, the executive, and the judicial. Each branch is meant to act as a "check" on other branches' power, so that no one branch or individual has too much control.
The border wall was one of Trump's campaign promises, and one he has thus far failed to fulfill. Trump claimed a border wall would stop an influx of non-US citizens from entering the country illegally, and as a result would reduce crime. Realistically, any such wall would likely be ineffective and extremely expensive. Trump told crowds during the 2016 election that Mexico would pay for the wall - something Mexico never agreed to and has vehemently denied.
The president unsuccessfully demanded $5.7 billion from Congress to fund his wall in late 2018, and proceeded to shut down the federal governement when he didn't get his wish. The shutdown, which left 800,000 federal employees out of work for over 30 days, was the longest in US history. The FDA stopped routine inspections and countless airports suffered major delays due to TSA staffing shortages. The White House ordered the IRS to continue issuing tax refunds during the shutdown, despite workers not being paid until the shutdown ended.
In 1976, Congress gave the president the power to pronounce a national emergency when appropriate through the National Emergencies Act. The law provides no definition of "emergency," leaving it up to the president's discretion. The act of declaring a national emergency opens up specialized laws and powers to the president, some of which have money not otherwise accessible to the president. Two such powers may allow the president to use Defense Department funding to build the wall. Such funds are set aside for military construction projects or civil projects supporting the military and national defense.
Anyone directly affected by the national emergency declaration can challenge it in court, which Trump has addressed. In a disorganized televised statement following his declaration, Trump said, "Look, I expect to be sued. And we'll win in the Supreme Court."
Many have pointed out that the president may be setting a dangerous precedent that the executive branch can ignore the decisions of Congress, who has already approved a budget that did not include the money Trump wanted for a border wall.
Congress can vote to reject the declaration, which may happen soon. The House and the Senate can take a joint resolution of termination to end the emergency status if they believe the president is acting irresponsibily or the threat has diminished. Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas has already stated he was ready to introduce such a resolution.
Whatever the outcome, the president has certainly changed his position regarding such tactics from President Obama's term. In 2014, Trump criticized Obama for using his executive authority to stop millions of immigrants from deportation after Congress refused to do so. In response, Trump tweeted: "Repubs must not allow Pres Obama to subvert the Constitution of the US for his own benefit & because he is unable to negotiate w/Congress".
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