By Jon Dougherty
(NationalSentinel) Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced Monday that he is authorizing the Defense Department to spend $3.6 billion on border wall construction pursuant to a declaration of a national emergency by President Donald Trump earlier this year.
In a letter to lawmakers, Esper said the authorization includes construction funds for some 175 miles of border fence entailing 11 separate projects.
Defense Department officials said that half of those funds will come from military projects in the U.S. while the rest will be drawn from overseas projects.
Officials didn’t say which of the 127 military construction projects would be affected by the funds shift but noted that further details will become available Wednesday after Congress is notified of the funds shift, The Associated Press reported.
Elaine McCusker, the Pentagon comptroller, said the projects weren’t going to be canceled but rather deferred for completion at a later date.
In a letter from the SECDEF to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Esper noted that the president had issued a proclamation on Feb. 15 declaring a national emergency existed along the southern border that requires the use of armed forces.
“I have determined that 11 military [wall] construction projects along the international border with Mexico, with an estimated total cost of $3.6 billion, are necessary to support the use of the armed forces in connection with the national emergency,” Esper wrote in the letter obtained by CNN.
“These projects will deter illegal entry, increase the vanishing time of those illegally crossing the border, and channel migrants to ports of entry,” Esper noted.
“They will reduce the demand for [Department of Defense] personnel and assets at the locations where the barriers are constructed and allow the redeployment of DoD personnel and assets to other high-traffic areas on the border without barriers.”
“In this respect, the contemplated construction projects are force multipliers,” the letter says, The Epoch Times reported.
“Accordingly, I have authorized and directed the Acting Secretary of the Army to undertake these 11 projects expeditiously and … to do so without regard to any other provision of law that may impede the expedition construction of such projects in response to the national emergency,” said Esper.
The decision is sure to rankle the Democratic House majority, which has been bitterly opposed to spending any money on border security, let alone new sections of border wall.
In fact, the Pentagon funding for border wall projects came about because Democrats refused to work with Republicans and the president on traditional funding, through the budgeting process. The Epoch Times notes:
In December, when the president stood by his campaign promise and refused to sign the spending bill that arrived on his desk withholding funds for a border wall, Congress missed a deadline to fund the government, triggering a partial shutdown. The shutdown stretched on for 35 days, between Dec. 22 and Jan. 25, the longest in United States history.
On Feb. 14, after a protracted political battle, Congress and the president approved $1.375 billion for construction of “primary pedestrian fencing” along the border in southeastern Texas. It was well short of Trump’s demands, but the president signed the funding, saying that he would get the money another way to address the humanitarian crisis on the southwest border.
Trump then declared a national emergency on Feb. 15. The move enabled him to redirect Department of Defense funds, beyond what Congress approved, toward building the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
The president has repeatedly said that in the long run, Mexico would actually pay for the wall. When pressed to explain how, he noted that the renegotiated NAFTA trade pact, now known as the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USMCA), would level the playing field and provide more income for the U.S.
However, that pact has yet to be approved by Congress, mostly because Democrats have so far refused to take it up. (Related: Mexico WILL pay for the border wall but ONLY if Democrats allow it)
In exit polling following the 2018 midterms in which Democrats regained control of the House but the GOP expanded its control of the Senate, most Republican voters and a wide majority of all voters either said they favored the border wall or that immigration was a serious problem.
“The wall will get built,” the president said on Twitter in December.
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