The US Defense Department said on Tuesday that it is freeing up $3.6 billion in funds budgeted for other projects to build a wall on the Mexican border as ordered by President Donald Trump.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffmann said that six weeks after being confirmed by Congress, Defense Secretary Mark Esper has signed off on the diversion of funds from 127 “deferred military projects” both inside and outside the country”.
In the month of February Trump, frustrated that Congress would not provide funding for the 18-foot (5.5-meter) barrier, declared a “national emergency” at the border in order to obtain $6.6 billion from other budgeted accounts for wall construction aimed at stemming the flow of undocumented migrants from Mexico and Central America.
Esper’s decision fuels what has been a persistent controversy between the Trump administration and Congress over immigration policies and the funding of the border wall.
Elaine McCusker, the Pentagon comptroller, said that the now-unfunded projects are not being cancelled. Instead, the Pentagon is saying the military projects are being “deferred”.
However, the Defense Department has no guarantee from Congress that any of the money will be replaced and a number of lawmakers made it clear during the debate earlier this year that they would not fall for budget trickery and sleight of hand to build the wall.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said, “It is a slap in the face to the members of the Armed Forces who serve our country that President Trump is willing to cannibalize already allocated military funding to boost his own ego and for a wall he promised Mexico would pay to build”.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union said that it would sue on the grounds of abuse of power by Trump.
“The fact that the government sat on these so-called ’emergency funds’ for seven months further confirm that this is nothing but an unlawful power grab”, ACLU staff attorney Dror Ladin.