Trump repeats threat to declare emergency over border wall

Demonstrators, union members and federal employees at a rally outside the White House on Thursday to call for an end to the partial government shutdown.
Demonstrators, union members and federal employees at a rally outside the White House on Thursday to call for an end to the partial government shutdown.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

White House reportedly considering diverting funds for relief projects to barrier

MCALLEN (Texas) • US President Donald Trump has again threatened to declare a national emergency along the border with Mexico, as he seeks funding for a wall he says will keep out dangerous immigrants - his latest jab in a fight with Democrats in Congress that has now shut down parts of the government for a record-tying 21 days.

Such a declaration, almost certain to be challenged in court, would, in theory, allow Mr Trump to sidestep Congress and divert money from military projects towards construction of the wall that has been a core focus of his nationalist campaign.

Speaking to Fox News in an interview broadcast on Thursday, Mr Trump reiterated that he had "the absolute right to declare a national emergency". But when pressed on a timeline for doing so, he said he would see what happens over the coming days.

On Thursday, US media reported that the White House had asked the Army Corps of Engineers to look into the possibility of diverting funds allocated for relief projects in areas damaged by natural disasters such as Puerto Rico and Florida.

Analysts say the emergency declaration would likely be challenged as a case of presidential overreach, which means the wall could still face being blocked.

However, it would give Mr Trump political cover with his base by showing that he had done what he could to build the wall. At that point, Mr Trump could end the shutdown and declare a win.

The embarrassing closure of parts of the US government will set a record 22 days today.


Yesterday, some 800,000 federal workers who are working without pay or not at all because of the impasse missed their first pay cheque since the shutdown.

Mr Trump toured the border with Mexico on Thursday to press his case for a wall, and warned of murderers and gangsters spreading across the country.

He used the backdrop of the Rio Grande border river in McAllen, Texas, to ramp up what has already turned into a hugely messy political fight with Democratic opponents.

With typical rhetorical flourishes, Mr Trump said that only building more walls along the Mexican border could stop an onslaught of violent crime.

"They just go where there is no security, and you don't even know the difference between Mexico and the United States," he told a meeting of border patrol officers.

"They have women tied up, they have tape over their mouths, electrical tape. If we had a barrier of any kind, a powerful barrier, whether it is steel or concrete.., we would stop it cold," Mr Trump said.

Opposition Democrats are refusing to approve US$5.7 billion (S$7.7 billion) in wall funding, saying that overwhelming numbers of illegal immigrants do not commit serious crimes and that Mr Trump is promoting the project mainly to satisfy his right-wing base.

Mr Trump said that illegal immigrant crime stretched right up into the north of the country.

However, widely respected studies show that illegal immigrants commit fewer crimes than people born in the US.

Mr Trump's refusal to sign a funding Bill without money for the wall has resulted in a partial government shutdown, with hundreds of thousands of federal employees - including air-traffic controllers, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and US Coast Guard - going without pay.

Signalling that he is ready to maintain the game of brinkmanship, Mr Trump tweeted on arrival in Texas that he would scrap a visit to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which runs from Jan 21 to 25.

Mr Trump had been expected to make a brief appearance at the influential get-together, attended by many world leaders, but said that opposition Democratic "intransigence" required him to stay home.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2019, with the headline 'Trump repeats threat to declare emergency over border wall'. Print Edition | Subscribe