26 March 2019, Washington (AFP)
Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan has authorized $1 billion to build part of the wall sought by Donald Trump along the US-Mexico border, the first funds designated for the project under the president’s emergency declaration.
The Department of Homeland Security asked the Pentagon to build 57 miles (92 kilometers) of 18-foot (5.5-meter) fencing, construct and improve roads, and install lighting to support Trump’s emergency declaration.
Shanahan “authorized the commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers to begin planning and executing up to $1 billion in support to the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol,” a Pentagon statement issued late Monday read.
The acting defense secretary cited a federal law that he said gives the Pentagon broad authority to build infrastructure “across international boundaries of the United States in support of counter-narcotic activities of federal law enforcement agencies.”
The statement was released a day before Shanahan was due to testify in Congress to present and defend the Pentagon’s draft budget.
The White House has laid out an ambitious 2020 budget proposal which contains $8.6 billion in new wall funding, above the $5.7 billion Trump sought for this year.
Frustrated by Congress’s refusal to provide the budget he wanted, Trump declared a national emergency last month.
The White House has signaled it will seek to repurpose some $6 billion from military funds, without specifying which Pentagon programs would be slashed.
The move drew condemnation from both the president’s rival Democrats and fellow Republicans, who warned it was an abuse of presidential powers and created a dangerous precedent.
Trump has made border security an over-arching domestic issue and says it will remain at the center of the agenda in his 2020 reelection bid.
Although there has been a surge in arrival of families and children at the border, overall apprehensions at the frontier are down substantially from a decade or more ago.