N.J., Del. among states claiming hardship over wall funds. Can they prove it?

Border Patrol agent Vincent Pirro walks towards prototypes for a border wall Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, in San Diego. President Donald Trump is expected to speak about funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border during his State of the Union address Tuesday. (Gregory Bull/AP Photo)

Border Patrol agent Vincent Pirro walks towards prototypes for a border wall Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, in San Diego. President Donald Trump is expected to speak about funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border during his State of the Union address Tuesday. (Gregory Bull/AP Photo)

The Trump administration’s decision to use emergency powers to build a border wall has drawn lawsuits from 16 states, including New Jersey and Delaware.

To fulfill his campaign promise of building “a big, fat, beautiful wall” between the U.S. and Mexico, President Donald Trump has proposed using federal funds earmarked for counter-drug activities, military construction projects, and assets seized by the Treasury Department to cobble together more than $8 billion for border barriers.

The lawsuit attacks Trump’s use of emergency powers and claims states will be harmed by the diversion of these funds. Without more specifics from the federal government about the programs that will be axed, experts say these claims are hard to weigh, and that some states may end up dropping out.

The complaint contains few specifics about New Jersey and Delaware but alleges broad harm.

“The loss of funding to conduct drug interdiction and counter-narcotic activity threatens the public safety of all New Jersey residents,” it states.

Speaking to NPR’s Morning Edition Tuesday, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said,  if drug interdiction funds are redirected, resources to deal with the opioid crisis could shrink. He also said Trump’s decision “affects New Jersey’s safety in innumerable ways.”

In the section pertaining to Delaware, Attorney General Kathleen Jennings contended using funds for the wall will drain money from the state’s economy and law enforcement. The complaint mentions the Delaware National Guard and the Dover Air Force Base as potential casualties of the national emergency declaration. It does not name any New Jersey installations.

“We don’t know, because the president has yet to identify, which projects are going to get the ax,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “At some point, he will have to identify what those projects are, and there is no particular reason to think they will be in border states.”

This type of lawsuit — claiming harm to a state’s economy and residents following use of executive authority — mirrors legal action taken after Trump banned travel from several Muslim-majority countries shortly after taking office.

The Department of Defense military construction funds, which the president can channel using emergency powers, may have been promised to a specific project, according to Goitein. This money is used domestically and to further U.S. medical initiatives abroad. It also funds housing, roads, hospitals and other facilities, and can be used to eliminate mold or other hazardous problems at military installations, the Associated Press has reported.

As a political tactic, the lawsuit fits a pattern by attorneys general of both parties who have sued the executive branch to make a point, said Princeton University politics professor Keith Whittington.

“Some suits have been stronger than others, and I think this one is pretty weak,” he said, adding that a judge may find more merit in challenges brought by landowners at the border.

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