A coalition of 16 US states led by California is suing President Donald Trump’s administration over his decision to declare an emergency to raise funds for a Mexican border wall.
The lawsuit was filed in the court for the Northern District of California.
It comes days after Mr Trump invoked emergency powers to bypass Congress and secure funding for the project – a key campaign pledge.
Democrats have vowed to contest it “using every remedy available”.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said they were taking President Trump to court “to block his misuse of presidential power”.
“We’re suing President Trump to stop him from unilaterally robbing taxpayer funds lawfully set aside by Congress for the people of our states. For most of us, the office of the presidency is not a place for theatre,” he added.
More than 250 rallies were organised across the United States on President’s Day, a US government holiday, with protesters carrying banners and placards that called the national emergency “fake”.
“I do think we have a national emergency in this country, this is an emergency to our democratic system,” Angelina Huynh, who joined the rally in Washington, DC, outside the White House with her two preschool children, told Al Jazeera.
As the snow fell in Boston, Massachusetts, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley took to the stage to speak against Trump’s bid to bypass Congress and help free up $8bn in funds for his wall, which was one of his biggest 2016 campaign promises.
Protesters and civil rights organisations called on Congress to take action against Trump’s latest move.
“Thank you other cities & states filing lawsuits! No better way to spend Presidents’ Day than rallying to stop this crazy President [with] his fake emergency to build a wall!” tweeted Congresswoman Maxine Waters before a rally in Los Angeles, California.
“Come for one, face us ALL!”
Immigrants, Muslim, Black and LGBTQ folks, and white allies standing united outside the White House and Trump’s #FakeNationalEmergency.
Trump declared the national emergency after Democrats refused to cave in to his demand of more than $5bn in funding for the wall. That demand led to the longest government shutdown of its kind late last year and into 2019.
The shutdown ended in late January when Trump, his fellow Republicans and Democrats agreed to temporarily fund the government while talks on border security continued.
Racing against the clock, Democratic and Republican negotiators came to an agreement last week to keep the government open. The deal did not include funds for Trump’s wall but did include about $1.37bn in funding for physical barriers.
Trump agreed to sign the legislation, but also announced he was declaring a national emergency over the border, drawing immediate challenges from Democrats and rights groups.
The president maintains that a wall is needed to stem irregular immigration and the flow of illicit drugs into the country. But statistics show that irregular immigration has been on the decline for decades and most illegal drugs enter the US through official ports of entry.
Angelina Huynh joins a rally in Washington, DC, against Trump’s national emergency deceleration with her two children on February 18, 2019. [Ola Salem/Al Jazeera]
‘How many people are angry?’
Activists and civil rights organisations were joined at rallies on Monday by those affected by Trump’s policies over the past two years since he took office, including those affected by the ban on travellers from several Muslim-majority countries, the crackdown on undocumented immigration and child separations at the border.
“I have a question, how many people are angry?” a speaker called out to hundreds of protesters at noon in Lafayette Park in the US capital. “How many people are sick and tired of being sick and tired?” the crowd was asked as they cheered in response.
Jo Hannah from Texas visited the border in 2017 and said she saw no emergency. Instead, she saw a plan that would devastate wildlife in the area and a plan that could tear down a wildlife centre in San Antonio.
“Around 10,000 monarch butterflies breed in this centre every year, and they are going to tear this centre for the wall,” she said to Al Jazeera from the Washington, DC rally.
The lawsuit, filed in a DC federal court, is another challenge to the construction of Trump’s long-promised border wall.Texas residents claim in the lawsuit that the government’s wall plan will divide their land [File: Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters]
Three Texas landowners and an environmental group have filed the first lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration aimed at freeing up billions of dollars to build a wall along the US border with Mexico, consumer advocacy group Public Citizen (PC) has said.
The lawsuit, brought in federal court in the District of Columbia on Friday, claims the south Texas landowners were told by the US government that it would seek to build a border wall on their properties if money for the project was available in 2019, according to a press release from PC.
“Words have meaning,” Allison Zieve, Public Citizen’s counsel for the plaintiffs, said in the release. “The facts make clear that the premise of the president’s declaration – that the absence of a wall in the areas where construction is planned is an ’emergency’ – is legally untenable and an impermissible basis for seeking to obligate funds that Congress has refused to appropriate for a border wall.”
Three of the plaintiffs on the lawsuit are private citizens in Texas’s Starr County, which was home to roughly 65,000 people in 2017.
The fourth plaintiff is the Frontera Audobon Society, a six-hectare nonprofit that acts as a “haven for birds, butterflies and other wildlife”.
All the plaintiffs claim the wall would deny them access to their land.
Trump declared a national emergency on Friday after Congress passed a spending deal to keep the government open that did not include funding for a border wall.
A national emergency, if not blocked by the courts or Congress, would allow Trump to dip into funds politicians had approved for other purposes to build a border wall.
Democrats and some rights groups have announced plans to challenge the emergency declaration.
The House Judiciary Committee, headed by Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler, wrote a letter to the White House on Friday asking the president to make available relevant White House and Justice Department officials.
They further requested legal documents related to the declaration, placing a deadline of next Friday on their delivery.
“We believe your declaration of an emergency shows a reckless disregard for the separation of powers and your own responsibilities under our constitutional system,” Nadler wrote in the letter.
The Americans Civil Liberties Union also announced on Friday they are suing Trumpover the emergency declaration, calling it “blatantly illegal”.
BREAKING: We’re suing President Trump over today’s blatantly illegal declaration of a national emergency.
There is no emergency. This is an unconstitutional power grab that hurts American communities. We’ll see him in court.
The coming legal fight seems likely to hinge on two main issues: whether the president can declare a national emergency to build a border wall in the face of Congress’s refusal to give him all the money he wanted; and whether federal law allows the Defense Department to take money from some congressionally approved military construction projects to pay for wall construction.
The Pentagon has so far not said which projects might be affected.
Trump claims the US-Mexico border is porous, facilitating the trafficking of narcotics and humans. Building a wall along the border was a key part of his platform during the 2016 presidential election.
Critics say most trafficking occurs in ports of entry and not the border.
On Friday the two most senior Democrats – House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democrat leader Chuck Schumer – said they would challenge the “power grab by a disappointed president” in Congress and in the courts.
Ms Pelosi also seized on a remark by Mr Trump in response to a question from a reporter, in which he said he “didn’t need to do this”.
Analysts suggest that this remark could undermine Mr Trump’s case that the country is facing an emergency.
It didn’t take Nancy Pelosi long to pick up on that line. I imagine we’ll see it in a court brief soon.
He admits it’s a #FakeTrumpEmergency. Hear him say it: “I *didn’t need* to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.”
What did Mr Trump say?
Making the announcement in the White House Rose Garden, the president said the emergency would allow him to get almost $8bn for the wall.
This is still considerably short of the estimated $23bn cost of the wall along almost 2,000 miles (3,200km) of border.
Mr Trump accepted that he would be sued for the move, and predicted that the emergency order would lead to legal action which was likely to end up in the Supreme Court.
“We’re going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border,” he said.
“Everyone knows that walls work.”
Later, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, told reporters that Mr Trump’s move “creates zero precedent”.
“This is authority given to the president in law already. It’s not as if he just didn’t get what he wanted so he’s waving a magic wand and taking a bunch of money,” he said.
By Jon Sopel, BBC North America editor
The trouble with going nuclear is there is fall-out. This has been presented as a predictably partisan issue.
On one side of the wall, Republicans; on the other side Democrats. But by going nuclear the president has made it more complicated than that. There are a lot of Republicans – in the Senate and in the House – deeply uneasy about what Mr Trump is doing.
Why? Because the constitutional arrangement of the US is that Congress – not the president – controls the purse strings and allocates funds.
This is a major land grab by the president. It undermines their position and sets a very dangerous precedent.
The National Emergencies Act contains a clause that allows Congress to terminate the emergency status if both houses vote for it – and the president does not veto.
With a comfortable majority in the House, Democrats could pass such a resolution to the Senate. The Republicans control the Senate, but a number of Republican senators have been vocal in their unease about the president invoking a national emergency.
The dissenting Republicans include 2012 presidential contender and new senator for Utah Mitt Romney, Florida senator Marco Rubio, and the senator from Maine Susan Collins, who said the move was of “dubious constitutionality”.
The resolution would however still require Mr Trump’s signature to pass, allowing him to veto it. A supermajority in both houses of Congress is needed to overturn a presidential veto.
What is a national emergency?
The National Emergencies Act is intended for times of national crisis. Mr Trump has claimed that there is a migration crisis at the nation’s southern border – a claim strongly refuted by migration experts.
The largest number of illegal migrants settling in the US each year is those who stay in the country after their visas expire.
Declaring a national emergency would give the president access to special powers that effectively allow him to bypass the usual political process, and he would be able to divert money from existing military or disaster relief budgets to pay for the wall.
Emergency declarations by previous presidents have been overwhelmingly used for addressing foreign policy crises – including blocking terrorism-linked entities from accessing funds or prohibiting investment in nations associated with human rights abuses.
Where will the money come from?
On Friday, Mr Mulvaney said the $8bn would be made up of:
$1.4bn from the agreed budget
$600m from cash and assets seized from drug traffickers
$2.5bn from a defence department anti-drug trafficking fund
$3.5bn reallocated from military construction projects
The latter is the biggest amount and the relevant statute allows a president to divert funds for projects that “require use of the armed forces”. This is almost certain to bring a legal challenge.
Building the wall was a key election promise but Mr Trump has so far been unable to get the necessary funding.
What did the White House say?
“The President is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement on Thursday.
She added he would “take other executive action – including a national emergency – to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border”.
The compromise legislation includes $1.3bn (£1bn) in funding for border security, including physical barriers, but it does not allot money towards Mr Trump’s wall. Mr Trump had wanted $5.7bn for the wall.
When Mr Trump warned that he might declare a national emergency over his wall earlier this year, some Republicans argued it would only set a dangerous precedent.
Speaking on the Senate floor on Thursday, however, party leader Mr McConnell indicated his support for the move, saying the president was taking action with “whatever tools he can legally use to enhance his efforts to secure the border”.
The Senate has passed the border security bill, which is now expected to go to the House of Representatives at about 18:30 EST (23:30 GMT).
How have Democrats responded?
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has already suggested a legal challenge from Democrats should the president make an emergency declaration.
She and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer also issued a strongly worded joint statement condemning the move.
“Declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall,” they said.
“He couldn’t convince Mexico, the American people or their elected representatives to pay for his ineffective and expensive wall, so now he’s trying an end-run around Congress in a desperate attempt to put taxpayers on the hook for it.”
The Democrats vowed that Congress would “defend our constitutional authorities”.
Getting around Congress, not through it
A month ago, in the midst of the federal government shutdown crisis, a consensus had emerged that the easiest way out for the president was to back down from his demands for congressional border wall appropriations while declaring a “national emergency” to commandeer funds from other sources.
It took a while, but the path of least resistance was the one Donald Trump followed.
He extricated himself from a predicament of his own making, while taking action that he can cite to supporters as evidence that he’s fulfilling his “build the wall” campaign promise.
Of course, the drawbacks to this course that were apparent in January are still there.
Republicans fear this will set a precedent for presidential power that Democrats can someday use to circumvent the will of Congress.
The emergency declaration is sure to get bogged down in court challenges, which means it may not have much tangible benefit anytime soon.
And, as much as the president may like to spin this as a victory by other means, he still backed down in the face of Democratic resistance in Congress.
The shutdown fight was always about more than just the wall – it was a battle over who would set the political agenda for the next two years of the Trump presidency.
And if this resolution is any indication, if the president wants to get his way he’s largely going to have to find ways around Congress, not through it.
What is a national emergency?
A state of emergency is declared in times of crisis. In this case, Mr Trump says the crisis is being caused by migrants arriving on the US-Mexico border.
Experts say declaring a national emergency would give the president access to special powers that effectively allow him to bypass the usual political process.
He would be able to divert money from existing military or disaster relief budgets to pay for the wall.
However there is debate about whether the situation at the southern US border constitutes such an emergency.
On the one hand, more than 2,000 people were turned away or arrested at the border each day during November alone. Supporters say this equals an emergency.
Others argue the figure is far lower than a decade ago, and many of the thousands of people who travelled north from countries like Honduras are presenting themselves as asylum seekers, looking to enter the country legally.
The man, who a Trump campaign official said appeared to be drunk, gave Mr Skeans a “very hard shove”, according to the cameraman.
President Trump told supporters in El Paso, “we’re building the wall anyway”
Mr Skeans said the man almost knocked him and his camera over twice before he was wrestled away by a blogger.
President Trump saw the attack, checked they were well with a thumbs up and continued his speech after Mr Skeans returned the gesture.
BBC Washington producer Eleanor Montague and Washington correspondent Gary O’Donoghue were sitting in front of the camera.
Ms Montague said the protester had attacked other news crews but Mr Skeans “got the brunt of it”.
What did the BBC letter say?
In the letter to Ms Sanders, the BBC’s Americas Bureaux Editor Paul Danahar asked for a review of security arrangements for members of the press attending the president’s rallies.
Mr Danahar pointed out “that access into the media area last night was unsupervised and that no member of law enforcement or security stopped the attacker entering, intervened when he began his attack or followed up on the incident with our colleagues afterwards”.
What is the background?
The president went to El Paso, on the US border with Mexico, to campaign for a border wall, a divisive issue which caused the longest government shutdown in US history.
Ms Montague said the president had spoken of “fake news” and how the media misrepresented him in the run up to the assault.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr O’Donoghue said it was “an incredibly violent attack”.
In Friday’s decision, United State District Court Judge Bernardo Velasco said the volunteers — Natalie Hoffman, Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse and Zaachila Orozco — hadn’t obtained permits to enter the Cabeza Prieta Refuge and Wilderness Area or followed the Department of Interior’s rules while they were there.
They face a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a possible $500 fine.
No More Death has described the food and water its volunteers leave for the migrants in the 860,000-acre refuge, located west of Tucson, Arizona, as life-saving.
In a news release, the group said that 155 people are known to have died in the area since 2001.
“This verdict challenges not only No More Deaths volunteers, but people of conscience throughout the country,” one of the group’s volunteers, Catherine Gaffney, said in a statement. “If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?”
Last year, No More Deaths published videos of apparent border agents kicking and emptying water jugs that its volunteers had left in the desert. A report that was co-authored with La Coalición de Derechos Humanos documented what No More Deaths described as the “intentional destruction” of more than 3,000 gallons of water.
Carlos Diaz, Southwest Branch Chief for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told NBC News last year that agents are advised to leave the water jugs alone.
“If anybody sees any activities like the ones seen in the videos, they need to inform us so we can take the corrective action because it’s not acceptable,” he said.
As punishment, the refuge’s law enforcement officer could have admonished or banned the volunteers from the refuge, Velasco wrote. But in this case, he added, the Department of Interior and Department of Justice authorized their prosecution.
In addition to not obtaining entry permits, Velasco wrote, the volunteers did not remain on designated roads and they left food, water and crates in the refuge — moves that erode the area’s “pristine nature,” he wrote.
“No one in charge of No More Deaths ever informed them that their conduct could be prosecuted as a criminal defense,” Velasco wrote. “The Court can only speculate as to what the Defendants’ decisions would have been had they known the actual risk of their undertaking.”