US administration officials made an urgent case on Tuesday (AEDT) that the situation at the US-Mexico border had reached a crisis level, laying the groundwork for President Donald Trump to possibly declare a national emergency that would empower him to construct a border wall without congressional approval.
With the federal government partially shut down amid his stalemate with Congress, Trump will attempt to bolster the administration’s position on Wednesday (AEDT) by delivering a prime-time televised address to the nation from the Oval Office – the first of his presidency. He will then travel to visit the nation’s southern border.
“There is a humanitarian and national security crisis,” Vice-President Mike Pence told reporters on Tuesday, a line that he and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen repeated several times. Pence also said he expected attempted crossings by undocumented migrants to “dramatically increase” as winter gives way to spring.
Many immigration experts, however, have said the Trump administration is exaggerating the security threat at the border and amplifying data in misleading ways or with outright falsehoods.
Vexed by Democrats’ refusal to yield to his demand for $US5.7 billion ($8b) for wall funding, Trump increasingly views a national emergency declaration as a viable, if risky, way for him to build a portion of his long-promised barrier, according to senior administration officials.Although Trump has made “no decision” about a declaration, Pence said, lawyers in the White House Counsel’s Office are working to determine the president’s options and prepare for possible legal obstacles.
Such a move would be a fraught act of brinkmanship at the dawn of a newly divided government, sparking a firestorm with House Democrats and certain challenges in federal courts. But Trump believes forcing a drastic reckoning by executive action may be necessary, given the Democratic resistance and the wall’s symbolic power for his core voters, officials said.
“We will oppose any effort by the president to make himself a king and a tyrant,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, said during a visit to the border on Tuesday. “The president has no authority to usurp Congress’ power of the purse.”
Jeh Johnson, who served in the Obama administration as secretary of homeland security and general counsel of the Defence Department, said the laws Trump could invoke with his national emergency declaration are designed to authorise military construction projects during wartime. He said using them for a border wall could curtail presidential powers in the years to come as lawmakers react to Trump and work to constrain him.