Defense Secretary Esper Signs Off on $3.6 Billion for Border Wall

September 3, 2019 Updated: September 4, 2019

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sept. 3 approved the diverting of $3.6 billion of Pentagon funds for military construction projects toward building some 175 miles of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Pentagon officials said half the money will come from military projects in the United States and the rest will come from projects abroad. They haven’t said which military construction projects will be affected, but said that further details would be available once members of Congress are notified about the move, The Associated Press reported.

Elaine McCusker, the Pentagon comptroller, said the now-unfunded projects aren’t being canceled; the Pentagon indicated that the military projects are being deferred.

In a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Esper noted that President Donald Trump had issued a proclamation on Feb. 15 declaring a national emergency on 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, which was obtained by CNN.

mark esper donald trump defense secretary
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks after he was sworn in as President Donald Trump looks on in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington on July 23, 2019. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

“These projects will deter illegal entry, increase the vanishing time of those illegally crossing the border, and channel migrants to ports of entry,” Esper wrote. “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 reads.

“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.”

Securing Funding for Border Barrier

Since taking office, Trump has demanded that Congress fund construction of a wall on the southern border—his landmark campaign promise. Democrats, whose votes are needed to reach the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, have thwarted all attempts.

In December 2018, when the president stood by his campaign promise and refused to sign the spending bill that arrived on his desk without funds for a border wall, Congress missed a deadline to fund the government, triggering a partial shutdown. The shutdown stretched 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, a move that enabled him to redirect Department of Defense funds, beyond what Congress approved, toward building the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Trump enabled the transfer of billions from the military construction budget toward wall construction, and also ordered the shifting of an additional $3.1 billion, which didn’t require declaring a national emergency: $2.5 billion was transferred from Defense Department counterdrug activities and $601 million from the Treasury Department’s asset forfeiture fund.

On March 14, the Senate passed a privileged resolution to terminate Trump’s national border emergency declaration. The president then used his veto power for the first time in his presidency on March 15 to override that resolution. On March 26, the Democratic-led House failed to override Trump’s veto. At that point, the White House had secured $8.1 billion toward border wall construction.

The Associated Press and Epoch Times staff members Ivan Pentchoukov and Petr Svab contributed to this report.

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