US taxpayers will pay an additional $3.8 billion to build more than 177 miles of new border fencing — Trump’s “big, beautiful wall” — along the country’s southern border with Mexico, it was recently revealed. The new funding includes $1.6 billion from the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, a war account used for emergency requirements, including the budgets for the National Guard, National Reserve and special funding for deployed troops. That fund includes imminent danger pay, family separation allowance and hardship duty pay, among others. The rest of the $2.2 billion will come from the from money allocated by Congress to the military for vehicles, aircraft, ships and other equipment.
Ranging between $20 and $30 million dollars a mile, and with a price tag of $11 million and rising, Trump has managed to build the most expensive wall in the world. And everyone else is paying the price.
This isn’t the first time the President has dipped his hand into the military’s spending jar to try and make good on his racist political promises. After Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in February of last year, the Secretary of Defense, Dr Mark Esper, authorized the diversion of $3.6 billion from nearly 130 domestic and overseas military construction projects, including K-12 schools on domestic and international military bases and funding for Hurricane Maria relief, to build the border wall.
Pentagon officials hoped that those projects would be backfilled by Congress, but that hasn’t happened yet.
And thanks to a controversial and obscure federal statute, Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southern border allows the Pentagon to circumvent Congressional approval for the ongoing, massive spending project. At a press conference last week, Sec. Esper addressed criticisms that the President and the Department of Defense were violating the Separation of Powers doctrine by encroaching on Congress’s spending authority, saying, “Border security is national security and national security is our mission.”
When I asked a spokesman for the Pentagon, Lt. Colonel Chris Mitchell, about whether the military would be involved in building the wall, he told me, “The US Army Corps of Engineers will be facilitating the construction… They will oversee the contracting process, and the actual construction will be carried out by contractors, not the US military.” Trump has promised that nearly 500 miles of border barrier will go up by the end of his term this year, but only 110 miles have been built so far.
The top-ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, publicly disagreed with the continuous tapping of military funding already allocated by Congress. In a statement, he said, “Congress has the constitutional responsibility to determine how defense dollars are spent… the final decisions are contained in the bills passed by Congress and signed into law. Once those choices have been made, the Department of Defense cannot change them in pursuit of their own priorities without the approval of Congress. Attempts to do so undermine the principle of civilian control of the military and [are] in violation of the separation of powers within the Constitution. The re-programming announced today is contrary to Congress’s constitutional authority, and I believe that it requires Congress to take action.”
Reynosa and Matamoros, cities in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, sit right on the other side of the Texas cities of McAllen and Brownsville – where the attempt to build more miles of Trump’s barrier has caused problems for businesses and landowners near the border towns. I spoke with Francisco Galván of the Texas-Tamaulipas Trade Office. He told me that “Trump can build walls 10 meters, 20 meters or 30 meters high, but if there aren’t public policy strategies to generate infrastructure and employment for towns and the marginalized cities in southern Mexico, even more so than Central America — he can build the tallest wall in the world but you still won’t be able to stop the migratory influx without that kind of investment. Seasonal visa programs for farm workers, for example, would be a much better way to control migration and it would be a win-win for everybody.”
Galván is right. For starters, the wall won’t keep irregular immigrants and illegal narcotics out of the country. Most illegal narcotics — including fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine — are smuggled through legal ports of entry, rather than via irregular border crossings. As for irregular migration by Mexican nationals, it fell by two million people between 2007 and 2017, according to the Pew Research Center. And that’s not even a good thing. American farms have been left without the help that they need to keep their businesses going: from Maryland to Florida to Louisiana and California, farm owners have a labor shortage that Mexican and Central American workers are content to fill if given the chance.
“Build that wall” was one of the hallmark slogans of Trump’s election campaign, but lawsuits from private landowners affected by the construction, as well as civil society groups opposed to the barrier, have impeded the administration’s efforts to build the additional miles of border barrier. And while Trump promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, our neighbor to the south hasn’t actually spent a dime on the construction.
What’s remarkable is that die-hard Republicans don’t seem to understand, or care, that he’s making a mockery of our constitutional system of government, their authority as elected officials and our service members. Because it’s the US military and those that give service to this nation, rather than Mexico, that are footing the bill for Trump’s wall. And that shouldn’t be good enough for the military-supporting Republicans who seem to be turning a blind eye for Trump.
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