Preliminary injunction blocks Pentagon funds for parts of border wall

Acting Deputy Commissioner Ronald D. Vitiello visits the border wall construction site near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry as eight different prototypes of the border wall were unveiled at the U.S. border with Mexico on October 26, 2017. File Photo by Yesica Uvina/U.S. Customs and Border Protection

May 25 (UPI) — A federal judge’s preliminary injunction has temporarily blocked the Trump administration from using U.S. Defense Department for parts of the border wall with Mexico.

On Friday night, Judge Haywood Gilliam of the Northern District of California initially blocked construction to commence on specific projects in Texas and Arizona until there is congressional approval for the funds. U.S. Congress had blocked the approval of $8.1 billion in funds but President Donald Trump invoked an emergency declaration.

“The position that when Congress declines the Executive’s request to appropriate funds, the Executive nonetheless may simply find a way to spend those funds ‘without Congress’ does not square with fundamental separation of powers principles dating back to the earliest days of our Republic,” Gilliam wrote in the 56-page ruling.

“Because the Court has found that Plaintiffs are likely to show that Defendants’ actions exceeded their statutory authority, and that irreparable harm will result from those actions, a preliminary injunction must issue pending a resolution of the merits of the case.”

The judge set a case management conference for June 5 when “the parties should be prepared to discuss a plan for expeditiously resolving this matter on the merits, whether through a bench trial, cross-motions for summary judgment, or other means.”

The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the plaintiffs, the Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition, after Trump’s emergency declaration.

Democrats in the House also sued. U.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden in Washington heard arguments Thursday, describing the case as an “ugly dispute between the political branches.”

“We’ve seen the damage that the ever-expanding border wall has inflicted on communities and the environment for decades,” Gloria Smith, managing attorney at the Sierra Club, said in a statement.

“Walls divide neighborhoods, worsen dangerous flooding, destroy lands and wildlife, and waste resources that should instead be used on the infrastructure these communities truly need. Yet again, the American people have had to look to our courts for a check on President Trump’s unlawful power grabs. The Sierra Club and our members are thrilled the courts put a rightful check on Trump’s abuse of emergency powers.”

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In a statement, Dror Ladin, an ACLU staff attorney, described it as “a win for our system of checks and balances, the rule of law, and border communities. … If the administration begins illegally diverting additional military funds, we’ll be back in court to block that as well.”

CNN wasn’t able to get a comment from the Justice Department.

But Trump weighed in on the judge’s ruling one day later from Tokyo.

“Another activist Obama appointed judge has just ruled against us on a section of the Southern Wall that is already under construction,” Trump tweeted “This is a ruling against Border Security and in favor of crime, drugs and human trafficking. We are asking for an expedited appeal!”

Without court intervention construction on the projects could have begun as early as Saturday, according to the ruling.

The ruling does not prevent the Trump administration from using funds from other sources to build the projects.

In February, Trump declared a national emergency to use federal funds to build a wall on the southern border after Congress refused to meet his request for border wall funds.

The Trump administration said there was a “crisis” on the southern border. Democrats believe there only is a humanitarian crisis.

The administration identified three sources for the funds: $3.6 billion from military construction projects using the president’s emergency declaration; $2.5 billion from other military accounts under counterdrug authorities; and $601 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund.

The Democrat-led House and Republican-led Senate sought to overturn the declaration, but Trump vetoed the measure. The House failed to overturn the veto and it didn’t go to the Senate.

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