Federal Court in Texas Issues Ruling Against President Trump’s Funding of Border Wall

Texas Issues Ruling Against Trump’s Funding of Border Wall
Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq.

When the Federal judiciary has blocked anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration, it has most commonly been Federal judges in California (U.S. District Courts in California, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California) that have issued these rulings.  As California is viewed as a “liberal-leaning, Blue state”, such results are not surprising. However, even Federal judges from “conservative-leaning, Red states”, such as Texas, can issue decisions that are adverse to the anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration. As one example of such a decision, a Federal court in Texas has issued a ruling against President Trump’s funding of the border wall at the United States – Mexico border.

On October 11, Judge David Briones of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, in the case of El Paso County, Texas and Border Network for Human Rights v. Donald J. Trump, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 177047 (W.D. Tex. 2019), ruled that President Trump’s declaration that a national emergency exists at the United States – Mexico border was unlawful.  Judge Briones stated, “The Proclamation [President Trump’s February 15, 2019 “Presidential Proclamation on Declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Southern Border of the United States”] is unlawful because the funding plan violates the CAA [the Consolidated Appropriations Act] generally and specifically violates [Section] 739. . . . [T]he CAA specifically appropriates $1.375 billion for border-wall expenditures and requires those expenditures to be made on ‘construction . . . in the Rio Grande Valley Sector’ alone. . . . Defendants’ funding plan, by contrast, will transfer $6.1 billion of funds appropriated for other more general purposes – military construction, under [Section] 2808, and counterdrug activities, under [Section] 284. 

Their plan, therefore, flouts the cardinal principle that a specific statute controls a general one and violates the CAA. . . . [T]he CAA is not a lump sum appropriation without restrictions, and Defendants do not profess it to be such. . . . The CAA provides $1.375 billion for ‘the construction of primary pedestrian fencing’ in ‘the Rio Grande Valley Sector.’ . . . And it states that none of the funds appropriated by the Act can be used ‘for the construction of pedestrian fencing’ in any of the five other areas of the border. . . . Here we have far more than ‘indicia’ or legislative history establishing Congressional expectations as to how the funds are spent: the plain text of the CAA restricts the amount and location of funding for border barrier construction. . . . CAA [Section] 739 expressly forbids Defendants’ funding plan. . . . [Section] 739 prohibits Defendants’ plan to fund the border wall because the plan is barred by that provision’s general rule and the plan does not fall within its exception. 

Defendants’ plan is barred by [Section] 739’s general rule, because it (1) seeks to use funds ‘made available in’ an ‘appropriations Act’; (2) ‘to increase funding for a program, project, or activity’; (3) that was ‘proposed in the President’s budget request for a fiscal year.’ . . . Defendants’ funding plan is not saved by [Section] 739’s exception: the funding increases it proposes are not ‘change[s] . . . made pursuant to the reprogramming or transfer provisions of this or any other appropriations Act.’ . . . The Proclamation violates [Section] 739 of the CAA”.

Judge Briones concluded, “Because the Proclamation seeks additional funds for border barrier funding in violation of the CAA generally and [Section] 739 of the CAA specifically, it is unlawful.  There is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, so Plaintiffs are entitled to judgment as a matter of law”. In addition to granting the Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, Judge Briones ordered that the Plaintiffs in the case file a proposed preliminary injunction specifying the scope of the preliminary injunction within 10 days of the opinion.

The decision by Judge Briones was viewed by the Plaintiffs’ lawyers in the case as an important limitation on presidential power.  Kristy Parker, counsel for Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan nonprofit which represented the Plaintiffs in the case, said, “Throughout history, democracies have been felled by overzealous leaders who sought to aggrandize their own powers under the banner of real or imagined ‘emergencies.’  Our Founders were wise enough to anticipate that danger and created a strong separation of powers to prevent that from happening here.

Today’s ruling vindicates the Founders’ wisdom and confirms that the president is not a king and that he cannot override Congress’s power to decide how to appropriate funds”.  Stuart Gerson, former Acting U.S. Attorney General, and co-counsel for the Plaintiffs in the case, said, “As someone who served in government under a Republican administration, I never imagined a Republican president would attempt to expand executive power this far by overriding the appropriations power that belongs to Congress.  I hope today’s ruling will prompt Republicans in Washington to recommit to the checks and balances that have defined our Republic and protected our freedom”.

The El Paso County, Texas case shows how immigrants can use Federal immigration litigation as a potential tool to protect immigrant rights, regardless of whether located in Texas, California, or any other state.  To so successfully utilize Federal immigration litigation, immigrants need to retain an attorney, such as Kameli Law, which has had years of experience and success in Federal immigration litigation.  If you need assistance with any immigration issue, please contact the Kameli Law, at taher@kameli.com or 312-233-1000, for representation.

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