Media Contact

Imelda Mejia, ACLU of Texas, 346-299-6803, media@aclutx.org

February 19, 2019

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union, Sierra Club, ACLU of Texas, and the ACLU of Northern California today filed a lawsuit challenging President Trump’s emergency powers declaration to secure funds to build a wall along the southern border. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition in the Northern District of California.

“We will not allow the Trump administration to use funds illegally obtained through a power grab to further devastate our border communities and impact our environmental landscape,” said Andre Segura, legal director for the ACLU of Texas. “Several regions in Texas are at imminent risk through construction of a border wall including the Rio Grande Valley and its natural landmarks. Expanding the wall would forever leave an impact on our people, communities, and ecosystem.”

The lawsuit argues that President Trump’s use of emergency powers to evade Congressional funding restrictions is unprecedented, unconstitutional, and unauthorized under 10 U.S.C. § 2808, the emergency power Trump invoked. Congress restricted the use of that power to military construction projects, like overseas military airfields in wartime, that “are necessary to support” the emergency use of armed forces.

The organizations further maintain that the border wall project, if carried out as directed under the president’s proclamation of emergency, would hurt communities living at the border, endanger wildlife, and have damaging impacts on the environment.

“The walls and hyper-militarization that President Trump is trying to strong-arm through will not make us safer, but will degrade the quality of life of the 15 million people who call the southern border region home,” said Vicki B. Gaubeca, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition. “Trump’s sham national emergency will tear apart the binational and multi-cultural fabric of our region, shred our way of life, and promote hostility towards immigrants and communities of color in border communities. We are suing to ensure that border communities are consulted in decisions that impact our quality of life and put a stop to this harmful, deadly and wasteful wall.”

The Southern Border Communities Coalition brings together 60 organizations from California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, to promote policies and solutions that improve quality of life in border communities.

“Just ask people in border communities -- there is no national emergency, just a manufactured emergency to build an unnecessary, unwanted, and racially-motivated border wall,” said Gloria Smith, managing attorney at the Sierra Club. “Border communities are rich in historic, cultural and environmental resources, but with the emergency declaration, Trump intends to bulldoze through these places, destroying wildlife habitats and migration corridors for animals, and cross-border relationships between people. This is yet another illegal and dangerous power grab by the president to further his anti-immigrant and anti-environment agenda.”

The Sierra Club is a national organization with 67 chapters and more than 3.5 million members and supporters dedicated to protecting and restoring the quality of the natural and human environment.

  • The lawsuit argues the president’s declaration and diversion of funds violates core constitutional principles and multiples laws and statutes, including:
  • The 2019 Appropriations Act, which the president signed into law last week.
  • The Constitution’s Presentment Clause, which requires the President to either sign an appropriations bill presented to him by Congress, or return it with his objections.
  • The constitutional principle of separation of powers because it usurps Congress’s power over spending and ignores its decision not to provide more than a limited amount of funding for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • The National Environmental Policy Act, which requires agencies to conduct environmental assessments and consider the harm to wildlife before proceeding with construction.

As the organizations note in their complaint, the 2019 Appropriations Act passed by Congress explicitly rejected President Trump’s $5.7 billion demand for a border wall, and forbade construction in certain areas, including carve-outs for wildlife areas. Further, the president violated the Presentment Clause by both signing the 2019 Appropriations Act but also expressing his rejection of it by declaring a national emergency to build more wall than Congress permitted, and faster than Congress allowed. In direct violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, the president’s proclamation directs DHS and DOD to undertake border wall construction without necessarily considering the environmental harms.

The organizations call on the court to block the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Treasury from taking action to build a wall using funds from the Defense Department or Treasury Asset Forfeiture Fund, or any on the basis of the president’s unlawful emergency declaration. They also urge the courts to block the agencies from implementing the border wall project until the agencies comply with the necessary environmental regulations.

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