The Trump administration unveiled a multi-tiered plan to pay for construction of a Mexico border wall two days before foes urge a judge to block the reallocation of funds not authorized by Congress.
The government intends to begin awarding the latest tranche of contracts Thursday, drawing on $2.5 billion from the Defense Department, primarily from budgets for drug interdiction and counter-drug activities, the Justice Department said in a court filing Wednesday. That amount is all that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is currently prepared to give President Donald Trump for the project, according to the filing. An additional $600 million will come from the Treasury Department’s Forfeiture Fund.
Trump has been fighting for money to pay for a border wall since taking office, mostly unsuccessfully, and is now resorting to shuffling funds around to start new construction along the U.S. southern border. While the president has repeatedly claimed construction on the wall has started, most of the work done so far has consisted of improving or replacing existing fencing.
A federal judge in Oakland, California, is scheduled Friday to hear a request by the Sierra Club to block Trump from diverting $7 billion in taxpayer funds for the project. The president declared a national emergency at the southern border on Feb. 15 after Congressional Democrats’ refused to provide $5.6 billion in funding as he demanded. Another legal challenge in Washington is set for a hearing next week.
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The Justice Department filing details correspondence between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense Department assessing whether and how military construction projects could support the use of the armed forces ”in addressing the national emergency at the southern border.”
”The Acting Secretary of Defense has taken no action on the assessment and has not yet decided to undertake or authorize any barrier construction projects,” according to the filing.
The Defense Department began reallocating funds with a $1 billion transfer to the Army Corp of Engineers on March 25. The administration awarded its first contract for construction in Yuma, Arizona, on April 9. The contract award was challenged by the Government Accountability Office within 10 days and scrapped by May 4. A new award is expected Thursday.
Galveston, Texas, -based SLSCO Ltd. secured a $789 million contract for construction in El Paso, Texas. It’s been challenged in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, with a hearing scheduled for Thursday that will be closed to the public.
The Defense Department plans to fund border construction at four more sites between El Centro, California, and Tucson, Arizona. Contracts for these projects will also be awarded on Thursday, with construction expected after 45 days. All permits and clearances for construction have been waived under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, according to Justice Department filing.
Another $848 million was transferred on May 9 and $680 million has been earmarked for transfer. In the meantime, House Democrats have proposed a spending bill to slash the amount the military can shift between accounts from $9.5 billion to $1.5 billion.