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What you need to know about Trump’s emergency declaration – and what we can do about it

News & Commentary  |  By Kathryn Johnson, Mar 1, 2019

A stretch of border wall fencing in San Diego, California. 

Photo: AFSC / Pedro Rios

Our taxpayer dollars should be spent on critical programs that make our communities stronger and more vibrant, such as education, health care, green infrastructure, and housing – instead of funding abusive agencies that terrorize communities and separate families.

But the appropriations bill passed by Congress two weeks ago goes completely against those principles. It increases funding to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – including a 12 percent increase for immigration detention and $1.375 billion for the border wall. This bill gives a green light to the Trump’s administration’s ongoing white supremacist attacks on immigrant communities across the country and people arriving at our borders.

But even that additional funding wasn’t enough for President Trump. As he signed the bill, he also declared a state of national emergency to funnel billions of dollars more to extend the wall at our southern border. The impacts of these actions will be devastating and far-reaching. 

Here’s what you need to know – and how we can continue to push back against the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda: 

More people will be locked up by ICE, an agency with a long history of violating human rights and harming our communities. 

Last year, Congress approved a record high amount of money for ICE to detain immigrants across the country, enough to lock up 40,500 people each night – up from 34,000 just two years before. Despite the massive increase in funding, ICE  has overspent its budget and taken money from other accounts in order to expand immigrant detention to 49,000 people each day, translating to hundreds of thousands of people over the year. This expansion included reopening a facility that had been previously shuttered due to poor conditions and rampant abuse and expanding into federal prison facilities, which lack appropriate resources for immigrants in the middle of immigration proceedings. 

As ICE expands, there have been more cases of people dying in ICE custody because of medical neglect, abuse, and a lack of concern for immigrant lives. ICE also continues to terrorize communities across the country – targeting parents of unaccompanied children, ramping up workplace raids, and arresting people at courthouses.

The appropriations bill was an opportunity for Congress to rein in ICE’s flagrant abuse of its authority, but elected officials chose not to. As part of the Defund Hate coalition, AFSC has called on Congress to cut ICE’s funding and prevent the agency from using the tricks they’ve used year after year to siphon money from other accounts. 

But instead of cutting funding for detention, Congress gave ICE enough money to detain over 45,000 people each night for the rest of this fiscal year. Perhaps even more dangerously, Congress declined to restrict ICE’s ability to shift money from things like FEMA disaster relief to immigrant detention, giving ICE the ability to lock up as many members of our communities as it wants. 

More walls will mean more deaths. 

Despite the fact that the majority of people in the U.S. oppose the border wall, Congress approved $1.375 billion for this year to extend it. 

Elected official approved this additional funding for CBP, an agency that forcibly separates thousands of families; tear-gasses asylum seekers, including toddlers, coming in from Mexico; and flouts international law by denying entry to asylum seekers at the southern border. Deplorable conditions and inadequate medical care in border facilities have also contributed to the deaths of two young children, Jakelin Caal Maqui and Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, in recent months.

Walls on our southern border have led to the deaths of thousands of migrants, damaged fragile ecosystems, and cut through communities. And these walls are being built by waiving hundreds of laws that protect the environment, property, and even religious freedom. 

Despite all of the death and devastation caused by more walls, Congress agreed to fund this monument to xenophobia instead of investing in things that will actually keep our communities safe. 

Trump’s emergency declaration can still be stopped.  

Trump declared a national emergency to move $5 billion in federal funds to build his border wall. Though many presidents have declared national emergencies, never before has this authority been used to do an end run around Congress when it has explicitly denied a president funding.

Specifically, Trump announced that he would use the national emergency declaration to take $3.6 billion dollars originally appropriated for military construction. He also announced plans to take $2.5 billion from the Department of Defense and $600 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund.

It’s clear that the president is making up a national emergency to justify his executive overreach. He has admitted that he only declared the emergency in order to build the wall “much faster.” 

Trump’s declaration can still be stopped through legislation or in the courts. Sixteen states and several organizations have filed lawsuits against the national security declaration. Congress also has the power to reject the declaration under the National Emergencies Act. The law states that “Not later than six months after a national emergency is declared...each House of Congress shall meet to consider a vote on a joint resolution to determine whether that emergency shall be terminated.” 

The House of Representatives already voted and passed a resolution to terminate the resolution. Now it’s up to the Senate to follow suit. 

You can speak out against Trump’s emergency declaration today.

In a resounding rejection of Trump’s undemocratic power grab, 50,000 people in 48 states flooded the streets on Presidents Day, demanding that Trump reverse the declaration and that Congress stop this attack on our government’s balance of power.

It's important that we keep up the pressure on our elected officials. Contact your senators today, and urge them to terminate Trump’s declaration of a national emergency. 

Tell them to say NO to more walls or border militarization and to work for policies that respect the humanity of all people.  

About the Author

Kathryn Johnson is the Policy Advocacy Coordinator with AFSC's Office for Public Policy and Advocacy. Before joining AFSC, she was a Field Organizer for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch where she educated and mobilized constituents against the Trans Pacific Partnership. Previously, she served as Assistant Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, supporting human rights defenders, educating the international community, and coordinating a network of activists to demand responsible US policies.