“At this juncture, the priority of the United States must be to stop the spread of COVID-19,” the lawmakers wrote.
Dozens of House and Senate Democrats are urging the Trump administration to halt construction on a border wall with Mexico during the coronavirus pandemic.
Writing to Attorney General William Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, 66 House Democrats and 25 senators said continued construction of the wall “places local communities at unnecessary risk” and should “halt immediately.”
Democrats, who have opposed President Donald Trump’s border wall, argued the construction flies in the face of efforts to respond to, and blunt the spread of, the coronavirus.
“Money that should be invested in healthcare, small businesses, and fighting the spread of COVID-19 is instead being used to build an ineffective and wasteful border wall that does not solve our immigration crisis or protect our homeland,” the lawmakers wrote. “We should be using all resources and funding to combat this virus and protect Americans, instead of using critical funding and resources to continue the construction of a border wall.”
“At this juncture, the priority of the United States must be to stop the spread of COVID-19. The continuation of wall construction compromises those efforts,” they added.
The letter from House Democrats was organized by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas). An identical letter signed by Senate Democrats was spearheaded by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). Both lawmakers represent stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Building a wall on the border was one of Trump’s central pledges during the 2016 campaign — a project he initially vowed Mexico would fund. The clash between Trump and Democrats has snarled must-pass spending bills on Capitol Hill and spurred a partial government shutdown.
Trump renewed his fight with Democrats this year by diverting another $3.8 billion from military coffers for border barrier construction. This time, the administration sapped money intended to purchase fighter jets, ships, vehicles and National Guard equipment — a move that even provoked the ire of some Republicans on Capitol Hill.
The Pentagon has forked over nearly $10 billion to the border since last year, including billions of dollars swiped from military construction projects.
Thousands of active-duty and National Guard troops, meanwhile, have been deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border since 2018 in support of the Trump administration’s border security efforts.
Even during the pandemic, Pentagon officials say an extra 540 troops are headed to the southern border to back up Homeland Security personnel. In an April 1 call to the media, U.S. Northern Command Chief Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy said the pandemic had increased the demand for troops to help secure the border.
The border debate is likely to reemerge when lawmakers take up annual defense authorizations and appropriations bills in the coming months. Democrats will likely push again to block further attempts to use the defense budget to pay for the project.
On top of the drain on federal dollars, the lawmakers argued construction workers, law enforcement and border residents are in danger because border wall construction “defies” federal guidelines for social distancing.
“Those who are tasked with building this wall are susceptible to not only contracting COVID-19, but also spreading the virus to others,” the lawmakers wrote. “Continuation of construction only exacerbates the public health risks for those living at the southern border, detracting from our national efforts against fighting this virus.”
Punctuating Democrats’ concerns, the $2 trillion rescue package passed last month bars the administration from diverting any of the $10.5 billion in emergency military funding toward the border wall.
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