Sixteen states of the United States have sued President Donald Trump over his plan to declare a national emergency to get funding for his controversial wall along the border with Mexico, saying he has veered the country toward a constitutional crisis of his own making.
The lawsuit came after Trump on Friday declared that he would spend billions of dollars more on border barriers than Congress had granted him.
The National Emergencies Act allows the President to declare a national emergency and unlock a stash of funds by invoking certain statutory authority.
The coalition of 16 states in their lawsuit alleged that the Trump administration's emergency declaration and diversion of funds is unconstitutional and otherwise unlawful.
The states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Virginia.
The suit, filed in Federal District Court in San Francisco, argues that the president does not have the power to divert funds for constructing a wall along the Mexican border because it is Congress that controls spending.
"President Trump has veered the country toward a constitutional crisis of his own making. For years, President Trump has repeatedly stated his intention to build a wall across the United States-Mexico border," reads the suit.
The dispute stems from steps Trump said he would take after lawmakers granted him only USD 1.375 billion for new border barriers, legislation he signed last week to avoid another government shutdown. The fund is far short of the USD 5.7 billion Trump had initially requested.
Trump asserted the power to tap three additional pots of money on his own: USD 600 million from a Treasury Department asset forfeiture fund for law enforcement priorities; about USD 2.5 billion from a military antidrug account, most of which would first be siphoned from other military programs the Pentagon has yet to identify, and USD 3.6 billion in military construction funds he said he could redirect by invoking an emergency-powers statute.
Trump declared the national emergency to fulfil his 2016 presidential campaign promise to "build a wall" on the US-Mexico border, which he calls "a major entry point for criminals, gang members, and illicit narcotics".
The lawsuit file on Monday seeks to block the Trump administration's emergency declaration, the unauthorised construction of the border wall, and any illegal diversion of Congressionally-appropriated funds, a media release said.
The states allege that the Trump administration's action exceeds the power of the executive office, violates the US Constitution and federal statutes, and would illegally and unconstitutionally divert federal funds appropriated by Congress for other purposes.
The lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to block the emergency declaration, the construction of the wall, and any illegal diversion of congressionally-appropriated funds.
White House officials said they believe they can unlock an additional USD 6.6 billion through the emergency declaration and other budget maneuvers. The White House believes the money would allow the administration to build at least 234 miles of the border wall.
"President Trump is manufacturing a crisis and declaring a made-up 'national emergency' in order to seize power and undermine the Constitution," said California Governor Gavin Newsom.
"This 'emergency' is a national disgrace. Rather than focusing on fighting the real vulnerabilities facing Americans, the President is using the powers of America's highest office to fan the flames of nativism and xenophobia. Our message to the White House is clear: California will not be part of this political theater. We will see you in court," he said.
President Trump treats the rule of law with utter contempt, charged California Attorney general Xavier Becerra.
"He knows there is no border crisis, he knows his emergency declaration is unwarranted, and he admits that he will likely lose this case in court. He is willing to manipulate the Office of the Presidency to engage in unconstitutional theatre performed to convince his audience that he is committed to his 'beautiful' border wall," he said.
The complaint alleges that the Trump administration's action declaring a national emergency due to a purported border crisis is unlawful and unconstitutional.
"President Trump's hyped crisis is a pretext to justify redirecting congressionally-appropriated funds to pay to build a wall along the southern border after he failed to get Congress — or Mexico — to pay for it. The facts do not support President Trump's rhetoric or his declaration," a media release said.
"Unlawful southern border entries are at their lowest point in 20 years, immigrants are less likely than native-born citizens to commit crimes, and illegal drugs are more likely to come through official ports of entry. There is no credible evidence to suggest that a border wall would decrease crime rates," it said.
National emergencies can last for one year and then terminate, unless the president renews the declaration 90 days prior, said Robert Chesney, who served in the Justice Department and teaches at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. Every six months, Congress can consider whether to put forward a joint resolution to terminate the emergency.
According to the Brennan Center, there have been 58 national emergencies between 1978 and 2018. Of those, 31 are still in effect today.