Pentagon Diverts $3.6 Billion for Border Wall

Part of the border wall at Calexico, Calif. (AP photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

(CN) – The Trump administration plans to divert $3.6 billion away from military construction projects toward the president’s long-promised border wall.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper announced the move in a memo Tuesday, outlining how the administration will seek to use the money for 11 border wall projects in Texas, New Mexico, California and Arizona.

The plan calls for a 52-mile stretch of new border fencing along the Rio Grande near Laredo, Texas, the longest stretch of border barrier outlined in the memo, along with new fencing and vehicle barriers in the other states.

Some of the projects would be built on federally-owned land. Others, including the one near Laredo, target private land that the government would have to purchase or take by condemnation.

“These projects will deter illegal entry, increase the vanishing time of those illegally crossing the border, and channel migrants to ports of entry,” Esper said in a separate letter to Senator James Inhofe, R-Okla., chair of the Senate Committee on Armed Services.

The president’s February declaration of a national emergency at the southern border paved the way for the use of military money for border barriers, but it has also sparked legal fights across the country.

In July, the Supreme Court allowed the administration to begin using $2.5 billion in military funds diverted from counter-drug programs for wall building. The $3.6 billion announced Tuesday is a new pot of funding that would be diverted from construction projects at army bases and other military installations.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is suing over the president’s emergency declaration, said it will ask for a court order blocking the use of the $3.6 billion.

“The fact that the government sat on these so-called ‘emergency funds’ for seven months further confirms that this is nothing but an unlawful power grab,” ACLU staff attorney Dror Ladin said in a statement.

On Twitter, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer called the administration’s move “a slap in the face to the members of the Armed Forces,” saying the president is pursuing the use of military funding “to boost his own ego.”

Multiple news outlets have reported that 127 military projects would lose funding as a result of the administration’s latest move, though it is not yet clear which projects that would include. Esper’s memo directs the Acting Secretary of the Army to “expeditiously undertake” the new wall segments and to disregard various environmental and historic preservation laws in the process.

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