Fight Over the Wall Funding Is Not a National Emergency, Lawsuit Says

Feb. 15, 2019

Fight Over the Wall Funding Is Not a National Emergency, Lawsuit Says

Public Citizen Sues Trump on Behalf of Affected Texas Landowners, Environmental Group

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The court should block President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration, Public Citizen said in a lawsuit (PDF) filed today with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Public Citizen filed the suit on behalf of the Frontera Audubon Society and three landowners in South Texas who were told by the government that it would seek to build a border wall on their properties if money was available in 2019.

The complaint urges the court to find that Trump exceeded his constitutional authority and authority under the National Emergencies Act, and to hold that the declaration violates the doctrine of separation of powers that is so central to our Constitution. The court should bar Trump and the U.S. Department of Defense from using the declaration and funds appropriated for other purposes to build a border wall, the complaint requests.

The national emergency declaration, signed by Trump today, purports to allow the administration to transfer funds appropriated by Congress for military construction to the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border – a wall promised by Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Words have meaning,” said Allison Zieve, Public Citizen’s counsel for the plaintiffs. “The facts make clear that the premise of the president’s declaration – that the absence of a wall in the areas where construction is planned is an ‘emergency’ – is legally untenable and an impermissible basis for seeking to obligate funds that Congress has refused to appropriate for a border wall.”

Trump also said in a press conference announcing the declaration that he “didn’t need to” invoke emergency power to build a wall, but that he “wanted to do it faster.”

Construction of the border wall and an accompanying enforcement zone would destroy a significant portion of the small amount of remaining habitat along the Rio Grande river.

The Frontera Audubon Society is headquartered on a 15-acre nature preserve in Weslaco, Texas, in the Rio Grande valley. The nonprofit is dedicated to preserving wildlife and the native habitat of the Rio Grande valley – one of the most biologically diverse regions in North America. The valley is a major migration corridor and provides more than three-quarters of America’s bird species with migratory, nesting and feeding habitat.

In addition to the Frontera Audubon Society, the plaintiffs in the suit are:

  • Nayda Alvarez, a Starr County resident whose home is about 200 feet from the Rio Grande river and just feet away from where the wall would be built. Her lot is adjacent to an approximately six-acre tract of land bordering the river that has been in her family for at least five generations. She would be cut off from the portion of her property south of the wall and would lose the use of almost her entire backyard; 
  • Leonel Romeo Alvarez, a Starr County resident whose home is on an approximately one acre lot adjacent to an approximately six-acre tract of land bordering the Rio Grande river that has been in his family for at least five generations. He would be cut off from his family’s property south of the wall; and
  • Yvette Gaytan, a Starr County resident who would lose access to her property south of the wall. The proposed border wall would pass through her property or her family’s property immediately south of her lot.

“Every halfhearted and palpably fabricated rationale to justify claims of emergency has been thoroughly and embarrassingly debunked,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Unauthorized immigration is not surging. Terrorists are not invading from Mexico. Illegal drug traffic is coming primarily through legal ports of entry, not open border areas.”

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