President Trump's Delusional National Emergency
On February 15, President Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border of the United States. This pronouncement was coupled with the signing of a hard-won federal funding bill to permanently reopen the government, succeeding the longest government shutdown in American history. Concurrently, President Trump decided that the $1.375 billion in said funding bill allotted to his long-proposed border wall was insufficient, given his earlier demand of $5 billion. By declaring a national emergency, President Trump has given himself permission to force open coffers and access additional funds to build his 200-mile border wall.
President Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency is unprecedented at best, and constitutionally impermissible at worst. Since the 1976 National Emergencies Act, presidents have declared national emergencies to access necessary funds to impose sanctions (in response to unrest in Ukraine, for example) or enforce trade regulations (such as prohibiting diamond imports from Sierra Leone). President Trump used a national emergency statute to incite military action at the border, something that has only been done once before, in the aftermath of 9/11. The President’s declaration is not only unprecedented in American history, but also absurd and likely illegal.
First and foremost, President Trump’s subverted use of a national emergency defies congressional compromise as a way to unilaterally access additional taxpayer money. It is a clear example of executive overreach. Congress has already decided on the appropriate amount of funds ($1.3 billion) to allocate toward border security. By declaring a national emergency, a number of presidential mandates can be enacted to give the President overarching control and access to funds. President Trump currently has access to an additional $8 billion in federal emergency funds that he plans to use on a border wall.
Secondly, a national emergency has never been declared without the presence of an actual emergency. President Trump campaigned on a promise to build a border wall, paid for by Mexico, to keep out a falsified crisis of “criminals” and “rapists” at the border. His rhetoric about the types of migrants coming to the United States has created a delusional vision of the US-Mexico border. President Trump’s ignorant, 1980s-era perspective of the border could use a serious reality check grounded in factual evidence.
Here is a clear, unobstructed picture of what is actually happening at the border: the increasing majority of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border are asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution. The vast majority are certainly not ”thugs” or “animals.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported that more people from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador sought affirmative asylum in the U.S. between 2013 to 2015 than during the previous 15 years combined. The most vulnerable populations, namely unaccompanied children and families, are now one of the largest groups migrating to the U.S. In 2014 alone, 68,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border. With 88% of the United States’ cocaine supply moving through the region, drug trafficking is a primary reason for the escalating violence there. Other aspects of violence, particularly gangs, can also largely be traced back to American policies in Central America: in 1996, the U.S. approved the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. This act deported 46,000 convicted criminals who brought American-grown gangs like MS-13 and Barrio 18 to Central America. Gang and cartel violence, combined with poverty, war-torn landscapes, and aggressive policing have forced Central Americans to migrate to the U.S. Despite efforts to thwart migrants from even reaching the border, the asylum seekers who reach U.S. soil still have the legal right, protected by both U.S. and international law, to apply for affirmative asylum. President Trump has started forcing these asylum applicants to remain in Mexico while their applications are processed.
Third, a national emergency has never been declared out of vanity. For a man used to getting everything he wants, a compromise bill was not enough for President Trump. While it could be argued that he wants uphold the promise he made to supporters to complete the wall, his base is dwindling. To shore up justification for the border wall, President Trump has used criminalizing descriptors of the people at the border and exaggerated the numbers of violent migrants apparently “invading” our country. At a press conference following the signing of the declaration of national emergency, President Trump even said himself, “I didn’t need to do this...I just want to do it faster.” He is declaring a national emergency to get what he wants quickly, as opposed to working toward an agreement with seasoned lawmakers.
For yet another time during the Trump administration, we can thank our founding fathers for their well-devised system of checks and balances. Trump’s national emergency declaration can be overruled by a veto-proof, two-thirds majority vote in Congress. However, because Republicans control the Senate, it is unlikely there would be enough support to block Trump in Congress. Thankfully, Trump’s decision can be tried in federal court. A number of high-profile Democrats have already announced their plans to take President Trump’s declaration to the judiciary, and up to sixteen states have already stated the same.
The caveat here is that although there are a number of executive mandates related to national emergencies, Congress has never tightly defined what a national emergency precisely is. This fluidity allowed former presidents some flexibility to declare national emergencies for both economic sanctions and terrorist attacks. At the same time, previous administrations have not used a national emergency to complete a project based on an apocryphal reality to save face for a base fueled on racism. Those wishing to take President Trump’s decision to court are searching for ways this declaration could be deemed unconstitutional.
If President Trump ends up securing his national emergency, perhaps by winning in court, what kind of precedent would this set in American politics? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already suggested when Democrats return to power that they could turn this logic into declaring a national emergency on gun violence or climate change. These two examples are already more salient and factual as “national emergencies” than President Trump’s over exaggerated border concerns. President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southern border is a dually arrogant and ignorant decision that satisfies only a minority of Americans, while severely implicating thousands of migrants and the American political system.