SIERRA VISTA — A U.S. District Judge blocked the Trump administration from using $2.5 billion to construct portions of a border wall on Friday, granting a request made by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of environmental organizations.
Judge Haywood S. Gillam ruled in favor of the ACLU, which represented the Sierra Club (SC) and the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC).
ACLU attorneys argued President Donald Trump overstepped his authority in mandating the Department of Defense (DOD) provide the money for the wall. Since members of the U.S. Congress denied the funding, ACLU said the move was illegal.
In the motion, ACLU also demanded the government comply with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for any such construction, but Gillam denied the request.
“The defendants, the Department of Justice, continue to assert that DOD did not transfer funds for an item previously denied by Congress and that the transfer was for an ‘unforeseen’ requirement,” Gilliam ruled.
“Defendants again present no new evidence or argument for why the court should depart from its prior decision, and it will not. The reprogramming of funds for the border barrier construction is unlawful.”
Gillam also wrote that that ACLU showed they will suffer harm to aesthetic and recreational interests, due to the impact the project would have on public land.
He said in his ruling that the Trump administration did not have the authority to reprogram the funds for border barrier construction.
“Defendants’ position on these factors boils down to an argument that the court should not enjoin conduct found to be unlawful because the ends justify the means,” he wrote. “No case supports this principle.”
The ruling blocks the administration from beginning construction on six previously announced wall projects in New Mexico, Arizona and California, including a section within the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.
Also proposed for wall construction were sections in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, the San Bernardino and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuges, the Coronado National Memorial and the Colorado River.
“If constructed, the wall sections would worsen flooding, destroy lands and wildlife, and waste resources along ecologically and culturally-critical areas,” The ACLU said in a statement. “The wall sections would also have divided border communities, including the Tohono O’odham Nation, Cocopah Indian Tribe, and ranches and households in Luna, Doña Ana, Pima and Cochise counties.”
Sierra Club managing attorney Gloria Smith said in a statement that the wall would make problems, not solve them.
“We’ve seen the damage that the ever-expanding border wall has inflicted on communities and the environment for decades. Walls divide neighborhoods, worsen dangerous flooding, destroy lands and wildlife and waste resources that should instead be used on the infrastructure these communities truly need.”
Andrea Guerrero, a member of SBCC‘s steering committee, praised the ruling.
“We welcome the court’s decision to block Trump’s attempts to sidestep Congress to build deadly walls that would hurt communities living at the border, endanger wildlife, and have damaging impacts on the environment. Doubling down on the myopic enforcement-only policies of the past has failed our country for decades and border communities will continue to push back at any attempt to further militarize our region.”
Department of Justice lawyers argued that construction was appropriate under federal statutes and Congress never explicitly denied the administration funds for the wall. Under the proposal, the bulk of the funds — some $6.1 billion — were slated to come from the DOD.
“Another activist Obama–appointed judge has just ruled against us on a section of the southern wall that is already under construction,” Trump tweeted after the ruling. “This is a ruling against border security and in favor of crime, drugs and human trafficking. We are asking for an expedited appeal!”
The court has not ruled on the diversion of $3.6 billion in military construction funding on the basis the administration did not indicate yet how those funds would be used. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to take up the DOJ issue of using military money this week.
“This litigation only addresses the ‘emergency’ diversion of dollars. Because we won and the administration is appealing, we will continue our work to make the case for sustaining the lower court decision,” Sierra Club spokesperson said Sandy Bahr said Monday.