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2 Arizona bases may see cuts as Pentagon siphons $3.8B to border wall

The Pentagon will once again shift military funding to border wall projects along the U.S.-Mexico border, diverting $3.8 billion from defense programs, including two in Arizona worth nearly $1.4 billion.

Arizona Democrats said that President Donald Trump is "trying to steal money" from the military to "pay for his vanity wall," while the ACLU said it would continue to pursue a lawsuit to block the budget shift.

Even as contractors carve their way along the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Southern Arizona, using explosives to crack open Monument Hill as part of a project to replace the steel mesh wall with a new 30-foot-high bollard wall, the Pentagon said that it would shift $2.2 billion from the Defense Department's budget. Along with another  $1.63 billion in overseas contingency funding, those funds will instead pay for the wall, requiring cutbacks to several major programs, including the purchase of the F-35 fighters, C-130J cargo planes, as well as the nation's armed drone program and the Navy's P-8 maritime surveillance planes. 

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema said that the cuts include $156 million in funding for the F-35 program, which includes aircraft that are housed at Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix and the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma. The cuts will also slash $1.3 billion from the National Guard and Reserve Equipment budget, which primarily funds the 162nd Test Center in Tucson.

"The emergency declaration continues to undermine critical military assets, including those in Arizona. Cuts to military funding announced today unnecessarily risk resources for Arizona service-members and national security," said Sinema. "I will continue working to end the emergency declaration, and find bipartisan solutions to secure our border and strengthen our military."

"Today’s cuts put in direct jeopardy the safety and security of Arizona service members and Arizona jobs," Sinema said. 

"The president is now trying to steal money from our National Guard to pay for his vanity wall project," said U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. "As an appropriator, it is alarming to see President Trump raid defense accounts without any house oversight or approval. Not only does this action disregard our separation of powers and constitutional system, it also compromises our national security by taking away valuable resources." 

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the Trump administration along with the Sierra Club over last year's funding shift, also criticized the Pentagon's move. 

"Multiple courts have ruled that it is illegal for Trump to pillage military funds for his xenophobic border wall," said Dror Ladin, a staff attorney with the ACLU's National Security Project. "Not one court has given his unlawful power grab the stamp of approval. We’ll be back in court to block these additional, unauthorized transfers." 

On January 31, lawyers for the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity filed a request asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and consider how the administration was using the funds, and whether or not the administration could continue building the 30-foot-high barriers along Arizona's wildlife refuges. 

This is the second time that military facilities in Arizona have been affected by shifting money in recent months. 

In September, the Trump administration moved to siphon $3.6 billion for dozens of military projects, using the money for 11 border wall projects, including $1.3 billion slated for construction along the Barry M. Goldwater bombing range and the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.

In exchange, more than 127 military projects were sidelined, including a $30 million project at Ft. Huachuca, which might have already been delayed because of "unforeseen environmental issues at the construction site." 

The administration has already shifted about $6.7 billion from across the government, and is planning to divert a total of $7.2 billion of military funding toward border wall construction this year. 

The new funding, along with about $4.2 billion that Congress has authorized for border wall projects over the past three years, will total about $18 billion in funding earmarked to build steel bollard walls across the entire southwestern border, as well as adding lighting systems, cameras, and other sensors. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has said that it has constructed about 108 miles of wall, and that the agency hopes to have 450 miles completed or under construction by the end of this year. 

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Downed saguaros in front of the new 30-foot high bollard wall in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

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