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Ruling Will ‘Really Accelerate’ Wall Progress, DHS Chief Says

July 29, 2019by Greg Stohr and Ben Brody
President Donald Trump tours the border wall prototypes near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in San Diego County, Calif., on March 13, 2018. (K.C. Alfred/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

WASHINGTON — The ruling that cleared Donald Trump’s administration to start using disputed Pentagon funds for fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border will “really accelerate” progress on the president’s wall project, the top Department of Homeland Security official said.

Meanwhile, segments that have already been built are “providing significant new operational capability and helping us control some high-traffic areas of the border,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

A divided Supreme Court late Friday said Trump could start using $2.5 billion to construct more than 100 miles (161 kilometers) of fencing, the biggest step yet for the border wall Trump has promised since campaigning for president in 2016.

The justices lifted a lower court freeze that was designed to block the spending while a lawsuit by the Sierra Club and another advocacy group went forward. The court’s four liberal justices said they would have kept construction on hold.

Those funds will “kind of double what we’re doing with the congressionally appropriated funding, which is going well,” McAleenan said. Some 54 miles of wall had already been built, he said.

‘BIG VICTORY’

McAleenan said while the court’s ruling was “a big victory” to build more of the wall, “we do remain in the midst of a border security crisis” with migrants flooding the region and that Congress must take more action to deter crossings.

“We made very clear the targeted changes in law that we need,” McAleenan said.

Friday’s order marked the first time the Supreme Court has acted in the dispute over the national-emergency declaration Trump issued in February in a bid to free up federal money for the wall.

“Wow! Big VICTORY on the Wall,” Trump tweeted on Friday. “Big WIN for Border Security and the Rule of Law!”

The wall segments in Arizona, New Mexico and California would give Trump a tangible achievement to tout in his re-election campaign. Until now, congressional and court resistance had thwarted significant progress toward a stronger barrier on the almost 2,000-mile frontier.

During his campaign, Trump said Mexico would pay for the wall. On Saturday he said the U.S. would be “fully reimbursed for this expenditure, over time, by other countries.” He didn’t say how.

The 30-foot steel bollard fencing would replace barriers that the Trump administration says are dilapidated and ineffective. Some of those existing barriers are designed only to prevent vehicles from crossing and don’t stop pedestrians.

While fact-checkers have pointed out that Trump’s assertions on Twitter and in other public comments that “we have already built large new sections” of wall aren’t accurate, he has insisted that renovations should count as new wall because it involves “complete demolition and rebuilding of old and worthless barriers.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition, vowed to fight on.

“This is not over,” Dror Ladin, the ACLU’s lead lawyer in the case, said in a statement. “We will be asking the federal appeals court to expedite the ongoing appeals proceeding to halt the irreversible and imminent damage from Trump’s border wall.”

But the court’s unsigned order suggested the administration was likely to win the fight. The order said the administration “has made a sufficient showing at this stage” that the groups don’t have the legal right to challenge the Pentagon’s spending decisions.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented, giving no explanation. Justice Stephen Breyer issued a partial dissent, saying he would have blocked construction while letting the government finalize its contracts.

HARM TO ENVIRONMENT

Breyer pointed to the trial judge’s conclusion that construction “would cause irreparable harm to the environment” and to the challengers.

A federal trial judge in Oakland, California, blocked the Defense Department from diverting $2.5 billion originally appropriated for other purposes. The Pentagon sought to transfer the money into its counter-narcotics fund, saying it would build barriers in stretches of the border used heavily by drug smugglers.

A San Francisco-based federal appeals court agreed that the spending should be halted while the litigation went forward.

Trump declared the emergency after Congress approved only $1.4 billion of the $5.7 billion he sought for the wall this fiscal year. The House and Senate both voted to cancel Trump’s plan but weren’t able to override his veto.

The $2.5 billion is the first chunk of almost $7 billion in Pentagon and Treasury Department funds that the emergency declaration was designed to tap.

The ACLU said allowing the spending now would damage the environment, “dramatically upend the status quo,” and let the administration “irretrievably commit taxpayer funds in contravention of Congress’s considered spending judgment.”

The groups said the administration was seeking to “construct a permanent wall this summer — before Congress has a chance to consider and pass another budget.”

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