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Judge blocks plan to use $3.6 billion in military funds for border wall

A federal judge on Tuesday issued a nationwide injunction blocking the Trump administration’s plan to use $3.6 billion in military construction money to build the president’s long-promised border wall.

The decision followed a previous ruling in a lawsuit brought by a West Texas county and an advocacy group, which determined that the president’s national emergency declaration at the southern border in February was “unlawful.”

U.S. District Judge David Briones ruled in October that the administration’s attempt to spend more than $6 billion in Department of Defense funds for the wall project violated the will of Congress, which only approved $1.375 billion for limited border barrier construction in South Texas.

“Because Defendant’s actions are unlawful and the people’s representatives – Congress – declined to augment the border wall budget as Defendants attempt, the public interest would be served by halting them,” Briones wrote in Tuesday’s order.

El Paso County and the advocacy group Border Network for Human Rights had asked the judge for a nationwide ban on the government paying for border barriers with funds originally meant for counter-drug programs or military construction projects.

The plaintiffs did not get everything they wanted with Tuesday’s permanent injunction, which only blocks the use of Defense Department money originally meant for military construction activities. The order does not prohibit the government from diverting $2.5 billion in counter-drug money toward the wall project, which the Supreme Court in July allowed to continue as separate litigation plays out.

Briones found the Texas plaintiffs’ argument against the use of that separate $2.5 billion “unviable.”

Still, the plaintiffs hailed the injunction as a victory.

“I think anytime you stop the president from abusing his powers and also stop him from using $3.6 billion of the taxpayers’ money for an unlawful purpose, it’s a pretty big win for Democracy,” Kristy Parker, an attorney with Protect Democracy and co-counsel for the plaintiffs, said.

The Justice Department said it will appeal the injunction. The government has also filed an appeal to the Fifth Circuit of the judge’s October ruling in the case. 

El Paso County and the Border Network had successfully argued in the lawsuit that the El Paso region would be directly harmed if the government was allowed to move more than $20 million in construction funding away from the Fort Bliss Army base, a big driver of the local economy.

More broadly, the plaintiffs argued the president’s emergency declaration alone threatened the region’s business and tourism prospects by portraying it in a negative light.

“The president issued an emergency declaration proclaiming this entire community to effectively be the site of a national disaster, declaring it to be a dangerous place where criminal immigrants are pouring over the border,” Parker said. “And those things aren’t true about the community.”

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Workers repair a section of border wall near Calexico, California, in 2018.