Sixteen U.S. Marines arrested on suspicion of human trafficking

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard Platoon during a ceremony at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, U.S., March 15, 2018. Lance Cpl. Rhita Daniel/U.S. Marines/Handout via REUTERS

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Sixteen U.S. Marines were arrested on Thursday at their base in Southern California on suspicion of drug-related offenses and the smuggling of undocumented migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. military officials said.

The arrests at Camp Pendleton stemmed from a separate investigation of two other Marines arrested earlier this month on human trafficking charges filed by federal prosecutors in San Diego, a base spokesman said.

Those two Marines, Lance Corporals Byron Darnell Law II and David Javier Salazar-Quintero, were also stationed at Camp Pendleton, about 55 miles (88 km) north of San Diego, according to the spokesman, Marine First Lieutenant Cameron Edinburgh.

“Information gained from the previous investigation gave way to this string of arrests,” Edinburgh told Reuters.

The Marine Corps said that in addition to the Marines arrested on Thursday, eight others were detained for questioning on unrelated alleged drug offenses.

The 16 taken into custody were all part of the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, one of the largest Marine Corps bases in the United States.

None one of those arrested or detained on Thursday was serving in support of the military’s mission along the border with Mexico, the Marine Corps said.

Unlike Salazar and Law, the Marines faced prosecution under the military justice system but no formal charges have been brought against them as yet, Edinburgh said.

The precise nature of the alleged wrongdoing was not disclosed, but Edinburgh said the troops were suspected of involvement in the smuggling of undocumented immigrants into the United States from Mexico and various unspecified drug-related offenses.

The two Marines arrested July 3 on charges of transporting aliens for financial gain were arrested by U.S. Border Patrol agents several miles north of the border along a highway in San Diego County.

According to court documents filed in that case, Salazar and Law picked up three undocumented Mexican immigrants by car near the border, guided to a pre-arranged location via cellphone instructions. The three migrants were found riding in the back seat of the Marines’ car, and they told investigators they had agreed to pay $8,000 to be smuggled into the United States.

Thursday’s arrests came a day after the military said a Navy SEAL team was sent back from Iraq because of discipline issues. An official said it was because, in part, they had been drinking alcohol, something that is prohibited.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Mexico anxiously awaits U.S. response on immigration deal as deadline arrives

Members of the Mexican National Guard keep watch at the border between Mexico and U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, July 20, 2019. Picture taken July 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico is on tenterhooks as a Monday deadline on a U.S. migration deal that removed tariff threats on Mexican exports arrived, and despite progress made in reducing migrant flows it was unclear what President Donald Trump’s next move would be.

The agreement reached in June laid out that if the United States deems that Mexico has not done enough to thwart migrants by the July 22 deadline, the two countries would begin talks over changing rules to make most asylum seekers apply for refuge in Mexico, not the United States.

U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks with Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard during a private meeting at the Foreign Ministry Building (SRE) in Mexico City, Mexico July 21, 2019. Mexico's Foreign Ministry /Handout via REUTERS

U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks with Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard during a private meeting at the Foreign Ministry Building (SRE) in Mexico City, Mexico July 21, 2019. Mexico’s Foreign Ministry /Handout via REUTERS

Mexico said on Sunday it had averted the so-called “safe third country” negotiations with the United States that it desperately wants to avoid after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Mexican efforts in reducing U.S.-bound migrant flows.

But while Pompeo praised the progress made by Mexico in helping cut apprehensions on the U.S. southern border by a almost a third in June to some 100,000, he also said there was still “more work to do” and that he would consult with Trump, who has been uncharacteristically hush on the topic.

“As for the next set of actions. I’ll talk with the president and the teams back in Washington and we’ll decide exactly which tools and exactly how to proceed,” said Pompeo.

Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard, who met with Pompeo in Mexico City on Sunday, was scheduled to attend Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s daily presser Monday morning.

Following the meeting with Pompeo, Ebrard said considering the advances Mexico had made, it was not necessary to initiate negotiations on a safe third country agreement between Mexico and the United States.

Eager to avoid being cornered into those talks, Mexico has deployed some 21,000 militarized National Guard police to decrease the flow of people across the U.S-Mexico border.

Mexico has long resisted U.S. pressure to formally accept the safe third country status.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; editing by Richard Pullin)

Congress clashes over border funding as migrant emergency continues

Asylum seekers waiting in hopes of being let through the nearby U.S. port of entry line up for a meal provided by volunteers at a makeshift migrant camp by the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

(Reuters) – The U.S. House and Senate will try to resolve their conflicting versions of an emergency funding bill on Thursday to address worsening humanitarian conditions for migrant children and families on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed by an overwhelming 84-8 vote a $4.6 billion spending bill on Wednesday. The Democratic-led House of Representatives on Tuesday night tied more strings to its approval of the money, setting standards for health and nutrition of migrants in custody after reports they lacked necessities such as soap and diapers.

A photo of drowned migrants, and reports of horrendous conditions for detained children have spurred efforts to craft compromise legislation to send to U.S. President Donald Trump before Congress breaks this week for the U.S. Independence Day holiday.

Whether Trump will sign a deal is uncertain as he continues to push for spending on the kind of border security some Democratic adversaries blame for migrant deaths.

Trump has made cracking down on immigration a centerpiece of his administration but officials are saying they will soon run out of money for border agencies. Border crossings hit their highest level in more than a decade in May, straining resources and creating chaotic scenes at overcrowded border patrol facilities.

The need for funding has become more urgent as attorneys last week called attention to more than 300 children detained in squalid conditions at a border patrol facility in Clint, Texas.

Reporters given a short tour of the facility on Wednesday were told by Station Chief Matthew Harris that it currently has 117 children in custody, but that a month and a half ago the number peaked at almost 700 children.

Harris said the facility was designed to hold people in custody for eight to ten hours. He said the average stay now was six to ten days, with teenage mothers staying up to two weeks, and some medical cases more than a month in the hospital.

Some older teenage girls could be seen talking and laughing, while others wore distraught looks. Some teenage boys played soccer while small children sat on the floor with blankets.

Trump has made building a wall along the southern border a key goal of his administration, but government officials say they need money to keep migrant housing facilities open past month end.

Border crossings hit their highest monthly level since 2006 in May, with more than 60% of migrants either children or families, mostly from Central America.

Lawyers and human rights workers said they found sick and hungry children when they visited the border patrol facility in Clint, Texas earlier this month.

“Many had been detained for weeks, one even up to a month in really horrific conditions,” said Clara Long, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The conditions of unaccompanied children crossing the border has become a key issue in the 2020 presidential race. During a debate on Wednesday night, many of the Democratic candidates called for an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws and about 12 of them are set to visit a Florida facility this week.

A photo of a Salvadoran father and his toddler daughter who drowned attempting to cross the Rio Grande added urgency on both sides of the aisle to reach a funding deal.

Trump criticized the House bill on Wednesday, telling Fox Business Network he wanted more money for “protection” from the drug traffickers and other criminals he says are taking advantage of the family surge to slip into the country.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan in Washington; Additional reporting by Omar Younis in Los Angeles and Julio-Cesar Chavez in El Paso, Texas; Writing by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Lisa Shumaker and Chizu Nomiyama)

Migrant deaths rise among Venezuelans, Central Americans: U.N.

FILE PHOTO: The U.S.-Mexico border is seen near Lukeville, Pima County, Arizona, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – At least 380 Latin American migrants have died on their journeys this year, many of them Venezuelans drowning in the Caribbean or Central Americans perishing while trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.N. migration agency said on Tuesday.

The toll, 50 percent more than the 241 recorded as of mid-June 2018, also coincides with tightened security along the U.S. southern border, which often leads migrants to turn to underground criminal smugglers and take riskier routes, it said.

President Donald Trump has made reducing illegal migration one of his signature policy pledges. His administration on Monday cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, after Trump blasted the three Central American countries because thousands of their citizens had sought asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico.

“This month has been marked by several tragedies on the U.S.-Mexico border, where at least 23 people have died since May 30 May, that is more than one per day,” spokesman Joel Millman of the International Organization for Migration told a briefing.

IOM figures show that so far, 144 migrants are known to have died in Mexico, 143 in the Caribbean, 66 along Mexico’s southern border with Central America and 27 in South America.

A further 42 reported deaths were under investigation in Mexico, and of several dozen more refugees and migrants crossing the Darien jungle in Panama, he added.

“So we are seeing a level of fatality that we haven’t seen before. We caution that with the summer months just beginning, with the intense heat that brings, we can expect it to get worse,” Millman said.

Four million Venezuelans have fled their homeland, most of them since an economic and humanitarian crisis began in 2015, the U.N. refugee agency says. Most went overland to Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil.

But in images reminiscent of desperate Cubans fleeing their homeland in decades past, Venezuelans increasingly are taking to the sea in rickety boats.

The overall toll includes more than 80 Venezuelans who have died or disappeared in three shipwrecks in the Caribbean in the past two months, Millman said.

UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch called for better search and rescue operations to save Venezuelans fleeing via the Caribbean.

“As Venezuelans continue to use dangerous sea routes to leave their country, the U.N. refugee agency is calling for more coordinated search and rescue efforts to prevent further loss of life,” Baloch said.”It is also absolutely vital that people are able to access safe territory in ways that do not require them to risk their lives,” he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Mexico Immigration deal reached, Trump says must be approved or tariffs

Central American migrants cross the Suchiate river on a raft from Tecun Uman, in Guatemala, to Ciudad Hidalgo, as seen from Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday hinted more details were to come about a migration pact the United States signed with Mexico last week, saying another portion of the deal with Mexico would need to be ratified by Mexican lawmakers.

He did not provide details but threatened tariffs if Mexico’s Congress did not approve the plan.

“We have fully signed and documented another very important part of the Immigration and Security deal with Mexico, one that the U.S. has been asking about getting for many years. It will be revealed in the not too distant future and will need a vote by Mexico’s legislative body,” Trump tweeted.

“We do not anticipate a problem with the vote but, if for any reason the approval is not forthcoming, tariffs will be reinstated.”

Last month, Trump threatened 5% tariffs on Mexican goods to be imposed on Monday. The duties would have increased every month until they reached 25% in October, unless Mexico stopped illegal immigration across its border with Mexico.

On Friday, the tariffs were called off, after the United States and Mexico announced an agreement on immigration. The joint communique issued by the two countries provided few details.

Critics have said there have been no new major commitments to slow the migration of Central Americans to the United States.

FILE PHOTO: Trucks cross the borderline into the U.S. and into Mexico at the World Trade Bridge, as seen from Laredo, Texas U.S., June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

FILE PHOTO: Trucks cross the borderline into the U.S. and into Mexico at the World Trade Bridge, as seen from Laredo, Texas U.S., June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

The agreement would expedite a program known as the Migration Protection Protocols, which sends people seeking asylum in the United States to wait in Mexico as their cases are processed.

That program, announced in December, would be expanded across the entire U.S.-Mexico border under the terms of the agreement, according to the State Department.

The deal would also send the Mexican National Guard police force to its own southern border, where many Central Americans enter Mexico.

“We’re very pleased with this agreement. It has an enforcement mechanism. It has an enforcement feature to it because these tariffs can go on at any time,” White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said in an interview with Fox News Channel.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard wrote in a tweet on Monday morning that he would brief the Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on the details of the agreement.

Ebrard said Lopez Obrador would discuss the deal during his morning news conference.

Marta Barcena Coqui, the Mexican ambassador to the United States, said in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that Mexican officials had agreed to take steps to reduce illegal immigration “to previous levels that we had maybe last year or in 2018.”

During the talks last week, Mexican sources said officials were resisting safe third country status, which would mean migrants seeking asylum would have to make such a request in the first safe country they crossed.

Under such safe third country status, that country for many Central American migrants fleeing poverty, violence and corruption in their native countries would be Mexico.

Such a change would require legal changes that would take at least 90 days and would need to be ratified by Mexico’s Congress.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Frank Jack Daniel in Mexico City; Editing by Larry King and Chizu Nomiyama)

FBI arrests leader of armed group stopping migrants in New Mexico

FILE PHOTO: U.S. soldiers walk next to the border fence between Mexico and the United States, as migrants are seen walking behind the fence, after crossing illegally into the U.S. to turn themselves in, in El Paso, Texas, U.S., in this picture taken from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, April 3, 2019. The writing on the wall reads, "Help us Jesus Christ." REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez/File Photo

By Andrew Hay

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) – The FBI on Saturday said it had arrested Larry Hopkins, the leader of an armed group that is stopping undocumented migrants after they cross the U.S.-Mexico border into New Mexico.

The arrest came two days after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) accused the group of illegally detaining migrants and New Mexico’s Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered an investigation.

Hopkins, 69, also known as Johnny Horton, was arrested in Sunland Park, New Mexico, on a federal complaint charging him with being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement.

“We’re not worried about it, he’s going to be cleared,” said Jim Benvie, a spokesman for the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), blaming his arrest on political pressure from Lujan Grisham.

Hopkins is the “national commander” of the UCP, which has had around half a dozen members camped out on a rotating basis near Sunland Park since late February.

PATRIOTS OR FASCISTS?

The UCP describes itself as a “patriot group” helping U.S. Border Patrol cope with record numbers of Central American families crossing the border to seek asylum.

Dressed in camouflage and carrying rifles, UCP members have helped U.S. Border Patrol detain over 5,600 migrants in the last two months, Benvie said. Videos posted online by the group show members telling migrants to stop, sit down, and wait for agents to arrive. Critics accuse the UCP of impersonating law enforcement.

Crowdfunding sites PayPal and GoFundMe on Friday barred the group, citing policies not to promote hate or violence, after the ACLU called the UCP a “fascist militia.”

“Today’s arrest by the FBI indicates clearly that the rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not armed vigilantes,” New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement of Hopkins’s arrest.

Hopkins was previously arrested in Oregon in 2006 on suspicion of impersonating a police officer and being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

NO STANDOFFS

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a statement it did not support citizens taking law enforcement into their own hands and instead encouraged the public to be its eyes and ears on the border.

Benvie said the UCP was doing just that and had the support of local Border Patrol and police.

Mostly military veterans, UCP members carry weapons for self-defense and at no time pointed guns at migrants, as they have been accused of, Benvie said.

Despite having funding sources cut off, Benvie said the group’s online support had swelled since it came under attack this week. Its Facebook followers have more than doubled since Thursday.

Asked what the group would do if told to leave by state police, Benvie said they would probably go and, if they felt the order violated their constitutional rights, sue the state of New Mexico.

“There’s not going to be any standoffs, this isn’t the Bundy Ranch,” Benvie said, in reference to a 2014 armed confrontation in Nevada.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Christopher Cushing)

U.S. to send 100 agents to Mexico border to cut delays: congresswoman

FILE PHOTO: Trucks wait in a long queue for border customs control to cross into U.S., at the Cordova-Americas border crossing bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez/File Photo

By Julio-Cesar Chavez

EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will send about 100 agents to the Mexico border to speed up crossing times, a U.S. congresswoman said on Thursday, as businesses grapple with trade delays after officers were redeployed to immigration duties.

The slowdowns began late last month after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to close the border if Mexico did not halt a surge of people seeking asylum in the United States.

The administration moved several hundred border agents to handle the influx of migrants, triggering long delays for cross-border traffic because of the staffing shortage.

As soon as Monday, CBP plans to send officers from the Canadian border and other parts of the country to El Paso, Texas, said Democratic U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar of Texas, noting she had been informed by CBP Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez.

CBP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Rio Grande Valley, on the eastern edge of the border, was being considered as another point to deploy extra officers, Escobar added.

Wait times totaling hours have hit industrial trade hard.

Losses have amounted to $800,000 a day for transportation businesses in Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez across the border from El Paso, said the head of Mexican trucking association CANACAR, Manuel Sotelo.

Data from border business association Index Juarez showed that losses from 28 exporting firms in Ciudad Juarez that utilize the crossing total $15 million over the past week.

In El Paso, several truckers said they usually did four crossings a day and were now managing only one.

Some manufacturing plants, including automotive factories that depend on constant cross-border shipments, have turned to expensive air freight to stay on schedule.

Passenger vehicles that would normally wait up to an hour and a half to cross are now facing four-hour waits.

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in El Paso, Texas; Additional reporting by Sharay Angulo in Mexico City; Editing by Peter Cooney and Stephen Coates)

Trump administration to hasten officer deployment to U.S.-Mexico border: statement

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks beside Honduras' President Juan Orlando Hernandez (not pictured) during a multilateral meeting at the Honduran Ministry of Security in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera/File Photo

By Yeganeh Torbati

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration will speed up the deployment of hundreds of officers on the southern border of the United States and will dramatically expand a policy of returning migrants seeking asylum to Mexico, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Monday.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency first announced the redeployment of 750 officers to process a surge of migrant families entering the United States last week.

In a written statement, Nielsen said she had ordered CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to undertake “emergency surge operations” and immediately speed up the reassignment.

CBP also has the authority to raise the number of redeployed personnel past 750, and will notify Nielsen if they plan to reassign more than 2,000 officers.

The agency will also “immediately expand” a policy to return Central American migrants to Mexico as they wait for their asylum claims to be heard by “hundreds of additional migrants per day above current rates,” Nielsen said.

That would be a dramatic expansion of the policy, dubbed the Migrant Protection Protocols, put in place in January. As of March 26, approximately 370 migrants had been returned to Mexico, a Mexican official told Reuters last week.

Asked about the numbers, a DHS spokeswoman declined to confirm them and said the policy “is still in the early stages of implementation.”

The policy is aimed at curbing the flow of mostly Central American migrants trying to enter the United States. Trump administration officials say a system that allows asylum seekers to remain in the country for years while waiting for their cases to move through a backlogged immigration court system encourages illegal immigration.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued the Trump administration over the policy, claiming it violates U.S. law.

But following a March 22 hearing on whether the program should be halted, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco ordered both sides to submit further briefing on the question of whether or not the California court has jurisdiction to preside over the case, likely prolonging any decision on the policy.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Grant McCool and Meredith Mazzilli)

House set to reject Trump’s border wall emergency declaration

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), flanked by Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX) (L) and House Democrats hold a news conference about their proposed resolution to terminate U.S. President Trump's Emergency Declaration on the southern border with Mexico, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives was poised on Tuesday to vote for terminating President Donald Trump’s proclaimed national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, a first step toward what could be a stinging rejection of his proposed border wall.

If the Democratic-controlled House approves a resolution ending the president’s emergency, as expected, the measure would go to the Republican-controlled Senate where its chances of passage were slimmer, but seemed to be improving.

Trump has vowed to issue a veto, which would be the first of his presidency, against any resolution approved by both chambers targeting the emergency that he single-handedly declared on Feb. 15 as a way to fund his wall by circumventing Congress.

Overriding such a veto in Congress would require two-thirds majorities in both chambers, making it highly unlikely, said lawmakers.

“When you see the vote today, there will be nowhere near the votes to override a veto,” U.S. Representative Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

The battle in Congress is the latest chapter in a long-running war between Trump and Democrats over border security, immigration policy and the “great, great wall” that Trump has pledged to build since becoming a presidential candidate.

He originally promised that Mexico would pay for it, but after Mexico refused, he asked U.S. taxpayers to foot the bill for the project, which Democrats call unneeded and ineffective.

In his first two years in office, Trump’s Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, which under the U.S. Constitution holds the national purse strings, but lawmakers failed to provide the funding Trump wanted for his border barrier.

When Congress, with the House now controlled by Democrats, refused in recent weeks to provide the money he wants, Trump declared an emergency and vowed to divert funds toward the wall from accounts already committed by Congress for other purposes.

That set up a test of the constitutional separation of powers between Congress and the presidency that will likely lead to a court challenge after lawmakers deal with the resolution.

A coalition of 16 U.S. states led by California has already sued Trump and top members of his administration in an attempt to block his emergency declaration.

Writing on Twitter on Monday, Trump, who says the wall is needed to stop illegal immigration and drugs, warned Republicans not to “fall into the Democrats ‘trap’ of Open Borders and Crime!”

Republican Representative Justin Amash is co-sponsoring the resolution in the House, along with more than 230 House Democrats, and Amash is urging his colleagues to support it.

“The same congressional Republicans who joined me in blasting Pres. Obama’s executive overreach now cry out for a king to usurp legislative powers,” Amash wrote on Twitter.

“If your faithfulness to the Constitution depends on which party controls the White House, then you are not faithful to it,” he wrote over the weekend.

The White House was working to limit Republican support for the measure, especially in the Senate. Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to attend a Senate Republican luncheon on Tuesday, where the resolution was expected to be a key topic.

Republican Senator Thom Tillis, in an opinion article published in the Washington Post, said he backed Trump on border security, but would vote for the resolution because he “cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress.”

At least two other Republican senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, have said they will likely support the measure, too. For it to pass the Senate, at least one more Republican vote would be needed, assuming all Democrats and two independents back it.

Trump declared the emergency after Congress declined his request for $5.7 billion to help build the wall.

Congress this month appropriated $1.37 billion for building border barriers following a battle with Trump, which included a 35-day partial government shutdown – the longest in U.S. history – when agency funding lapsed on Dec. 22.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. states sue Trump administration in showdown over border wall funds

A view shows a new section of the border fence in El Paso, Texas, U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

By Jeff Mason and Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A coalition of 16 U.S. states led by California sued President Donald Trump and top members of his administration on Monday to block his decision to declare a national emergency to obtain funds for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California came after Trump invoked emergency powers on Friday to help build the wall that was his signature 2016 campaign promise.

Trump’s order would allow him to spend on the wall money that Congress appropriated for other purposes. Congress declined to fulfill his request for $5.7 billion to help build the wall this year..

“Today, on Presidents Day, we take President Trump to court to block his misuse of presidential power,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

“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 theater,” added Becerra, a Democrat.

The White House declined to comment on the filing.

In a budget deal passed by Congress to avert a second government shutdown, nearly $1.4 billion was allocated toward border fencing. Trump’s emergency order would give him an additional $6.7 billion beyond what lawmakers authorized.

Three Texas landowners and an environmental group filed the first lawsuit against Trump’s move on Friday, saying it violated the Constitution and would infringe on their property rights.

The legal challenges could slow Trump’s efforts to build the wall, which he says is needed to curb illegal immigration and drug trafficking. The lawsuits could end up at the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court.

Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Michigan joined California in the lawsuit.

The states said Trump’s order would cause them to lose millions of dollars in federal funding for national guard units dealing with counter-drug activities and redirection of funds from authorized military construction projects would damage their economies.

In television interviews on Sunday and Monday, Becerra said the lawsuit would use Trump’s own words against him as evidence that there was no national emergency to declare.

Trump said on Friday he did not need to make the emergency declaration but wanted to speed the process of building the wall. That comment could undercut the government’s legal argument.

“By the president’s own admission, an emergency declaration is not necessary,” the states said in the lawsuit. “The federal government’s own data prove there is no national emergency at the southern border that warrants construction of a wall.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)