EL PASO, Texas – Two groups representing El Paso County and the Border Network for Human Rights say they will file a lawsuit against President Trump over his decision to declare a national emergency.

The national emergency will allow the Trump administration to build a border wall without congressional approval.

The groups filing suit are Protect Democracy and the Niskanen Center. They said there is no legal basis for issuing such a declaration and its issuance will injure specific parties and communities on the border, including the County of El Paso and the Border Network for Human Rights.

Fernando Garcia

The Border Network for Human Rights is an immigration reform and human rights advocacy organization with a membership of nearly 4,000 people in border communities in West Texas and Southern New Mexico. The County of El Paso, Texas, with a population of more than 800,000, sits on the Rio Grande directly along the southern U.S. border.

“Throughout history, autocrats have used so-called emergency powers to seize control from democratic systems that don’t yield to their will. Often, they have invented fake crises for this purpose and we should all be extremely alarmed that President Trump has reached for this tool in the autocrat’s toolkit,” said Kristy Parker, counsel for Protect Democracy and co-counsel for the pending litigation.

“Thankfully, our founders also knew that the seizing of legislative powers by the executive was, in the words of James Madison, ‘the very definition of tyranny’; and made it unlawful. It’s unlawful here and we look forward to the courts upholding our framers’ vision.”

Ricardo A. Samaniego

Kristie De Peña, director of Immigration and Senior Counsel for the Niskanen Center and co-counsel for the prospective lawsuit against President Trump, said overriding the will of Congress, usurps the Constitutional authority granted to Congress to pass laws and appropriate government funds. She said it is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution’s separation of powers and threatens our representative democracy.

“America is governed by the rule of law and the separation of powers. President Trump’s threat to declare a national emergency would violate both of these. Our lawsuit would aim to stop the dangerous precedent this would establish for the presidency and the immediate harm it would inflict on communities along the border,” De Peña said.

Fernando Garcia is executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights. His group has worked with Rio Grande Valley community groups in the past, such as La Unión del Pueblo Entero.

“President Trump’s emergency is a manufactured crisis. In his anti-immigrant statements about border crossings, even President Trump himself has suggested that this is a political hammer rather than a real emergency. The Border Network for Human Rights has worked for years to cultivate the relationships for a safe community. We did not do this by building walls or by criminalizing and persecuting immigrants.”

Ricardo A. Samaniego, El Paso County Judge, said: “El Paso County is one of the safest communities in the United States. President Trump has already made many negative and false statements about our community in the attempt to justify his border wall. He has never reached out to the leadership of our community to determine

if this is actually an emergency. This threatened emergency declaration will further damage El Paso County’s reputation and economy, and we are determined to stop this from happening.”

Blanco responds

State Rep. César J. Blanco, D-El Paso, is a U.S. Navy veteran and chairman of Texas House Border Caucus. Blanco said President Trump’s national emergency was pure politics.

State Rep. César Blanco

“Trump’s national emergency declaration for his border wall is dangerous and radical. There is no national security crisis on the border. The only crisis we have is a humanitarian crisis,” Blanco said.

“Trump and the Republicans had control of the Presidency, the House, and the Senate for two years and could not get his border wall funded. This declaration is a dangerous step into dark territory for a president that acts on his worst political impulses. He has trampled on the rule of law and disregarded accepted facts, even from military Generals, the F.B.I., and the U.S. intelligence community. This declaration is purely political.”

In a news release, Blanco issued a fact sheet which read:

  • According to Customs and Border Protection, arrests along the southwest border — the standard metric used to calculate illegal border crossings — numbered 396,579 in fiscal year 2018, which ended Oct. 1. That’s lower than the average over the previous decade (400,751). It’s also lower than the number of border arrests in fiscal 2016, 2014 and 2013.
  • Violent crime has been dropping in El Paso since its modern-day peak in 1993 and was at historic lows before a fence was authorized by Congress in 2006. Violent crime actually ticked up during the border fence’s construction and after its completion, according to police data collected by the FBI.
  •  For the third straight year, the city of El Paso was ranked as the safest of its size in the country…Congressional Quarterly ranks the border town as the safest of cities with a population greater than 500,000.

Gonzalez responds

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, said a national emergency declaration will directly impact his congressional district.

“Seizing lands across the southwest border for President Trump’s border wall would encroach on private property rights, lead to economic and agricultural losses, inflame U.S.-Mexico relations, infringe on the property rights of Native Americans, endanger public lands and wildlife, create flood hazards, and fail to deter illegal immigration,” Gonzalez said.

“President Trump is moving into uncharted territory with his emergency powers utilization, which I am sure will not be met with open arms.”

American Immigration Council response

Beth Werlin, executive director of the American Immigration Council, issued this statement immediately following the president’s national emergency declaration:

Beth Werlin

“With his emergency declaration, Trump has once again sent a loud and clear message that America’s doors are closed to immigrants. The declaration is yet another attempt to circumvent the normal process of law.

“There are fewer people crossing the border now than at any period in decades. At the same time, more people coming to the United States are families and children fleeing serious harm at home. It is legal to seek asylum, and asylum seekers comply with their immigration court obligations. Research has shown that 86 percent of all families released from detention between 2001 and 2016 appeared for all scheduled removal proceedings.

“Today’s national emergency declaration so soon after Congress reached agreement on border security makes clear that the president is trying to create a crisis, not solve one. The most pressing immigration issue we confront at the border is one that the president himself has manufactured by unlawfully turning away asylum seekers and cruelly separating parents from their children. Instead of throwing up obstacles, the administration should be focusing its efforts on ensuring a fair and just process for those seeking protection.”

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights response

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights is the largest immigrant rights organization in California. Angelica Salas, executive director of CHIRLA, said:

Angelica Salas

“This president who is forever on the campaign trail but has no interest in actual governance has sunk to manufacturing a national security emergency to try to bypass Congress for a border wall that we all know is a political stunt.

“This is a power grab unlike anything we have seen in recent history. Trump may be laying the groundwork for his 2020 re-election campaign, but he is tearing down our nation’s democratic underpinnings in the process.

“The real crisis here is Trump’s insane immigration policies that rip toddlers from their parents’ arms, jail boys and girls in desert camps, and tear-gas asylum seekers. Under Trump, a system that was already broken has become Kafkaesque and gratuitously cruel.

“President Trump is overreaching again with this latest move, and it is up to Congress to assert its power of the purse and reclaim its role as a check and balance against a tyrant.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows members of the Border Network for Human Rights protesting Senate Bill 4 at the headquarters of La Unión del Pueblo Entero in San Juan, Texas, in April, 2018. (Photo: Steve Taylor/Rio Grande Guardian)