Early in January, as the US government remained partially shut down over the standoff over $5.6 billion funding for Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the country’s southern border, the President had said he was “looking very strongly” at invoking emergency powers to build the wall without permission from Congress.
He announced that step on Friday, declaring a national emergency on the border with Mexico because, he said, “We have an invasion of drugs and criminals coming into our country”, and even though “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster”, and “I just want to get it done faster, that’s all.”
What does this step mean, and where does this issue that has provoked intense debate in the United States and elsewhere, go from here?
First of all, the power to declare a national emergency is an extraordinary power, which has in the past been used for grave situations like the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In this case, critics have pointed out, Trump is using this power to get his way in a situation which a very large chunk of the American people believe, and nearly all available evidence indicates, is nowhere close to being a national security crisis.
Why is Trump doing this?
Many Republicans in Congress wanted to stay with the spending deal they had struck with the Democrats to keep the government open, but hardliners in the American media and commentariart, who Trump believes are powerful voices for his base, were strongly critical. Among them are Fox personalities Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, conservative commentator Ann Coulter, and radio host Rush Limbaugh. Some of them announced the President’s decision in advance. According to The New York Times, which has criticised Trump’s decision, the President is “willing to risk the blowback, even from members of his party, and a possible court defeat, if it means he can tell his core supporters that he did all he could to build the wall”.
Can Democrats stop him now?
No, the President can’t be stopped from issuing the declaration of emergency. Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, one of the experts on this subject that many American media organisations have quoted, has said: “There aren’t a lot of legal limits on his (Trump’s) ability to do that, frankly, even if there isn’t a real emergency happening.”
However, Democrats can make things difficult for the Republics here on.
Following the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s, Congress passed The National Emergencies Act, 1976. The idea was to put some checks on the President’s powers, while not hampering his ability to act in an emergency. The Act requires the President to formally inform Congress when he declares a national emergency, and to provide lawmakers with a list of the powers being invoked. The administration is required to regularly update Congress, and lawmakers can, by a vote in both the House and Senate, end the emergency.
So Democrats, who are in a majority in the House, can vote to terminate the President’s declaration, thus forcing the Republican majority in the Senate into taking an explicit position to either defend or reject his decision.
Can someone go to court?
The first lawsuit has already been filed, and the President himself has said that he expected to be sued, even though “we’ll win in the Supreme Court”. The suits are likely to seek injunctions on his action during the pendency of the litigation. As many legal challenges are likely to be mounted, the chances are the new construction that Trump wants will not start soon.
And what is the situation on the ground as of now?
American media reports have underlined that the border situation has not deteriorated so much that an emergency to build the wall can be justified. The number of illegal aliens crossing over has fallen consistently for almost 20 years. The recent caravans of migrants have made no attempt to cross the border by stealth, rather they have approached the authorities seeking asylum.
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