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University Scholars Discuss Implications of National Emergency

After a bill to fund border security passed both chambers of Congress with bipartisan support, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in order to appropriate funding for a border wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, on Friday, Feb. 15.

Thousands of people rallied nationwide on Monday to protest the national emergency. More than 250 rallies were organized across the United States on President’s Day, with protesters carrying banners and placards that called the national emergency “fake.”

When Congress approved far less money for border security than he had sought, Trump last week announced that he would instead use the emergency declaration to stem illegal immigration, which he called “an invasion of our country.”

The declaration comes as a result of failed negotiations to secure funding, which led to a 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government, the longest in the nation’s history. During that time, Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) fought over the conditions of building a physical barrier along the Southern border.

New Jersey and 15 other state Attorneys-General have already filed lawsuits against the president’s action, citing that his motion is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers and an illegal use of the federal National Emergencies Act. The move, if it survives pending legal challenges, would allow the president to access billions of dollars in federal emergency relief funds.

“There isn’t much that can be done by Congress, aside from passing a resolution that stops the emergency declaration,” said Stephen Chapman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of political science. Congressional Democrats have already begun drafting legislation to prohibit the allocation of funds from going through, with some support from Republicans. However, the president is likely to veto the bill once it gets to his desk.

 With a (235-197) majority in the House, Democrats can easily overturn a presidential veto, but the Senate is unlikely to get the 67 votes needed to do the same. 

Chapman said that the president’s decision to declare a national emergency at the border, in order to deliver on a key partisan proposal, sets a precedent for future presidents to take advantage of as well. “This [decision] opens the door for future Democratic presidents to declare national emergencies for topics such as healthcare, climate change, and gun control,” he said.

Kelly Raptis, senior social work student, opposes the president’s decision to declare a national emergency, and a border wall entirely. “As a social worker, human rights and social justice are at the utmost importance when discussing at risk and vulnerable populations,” she said.

Raptis said that the construction of a nearly 2,000-mile-long border wall is a major violation to thousands of individuals and their human rights to seek asylum in the United States. “America is built off the idea that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The concept of this border wall goes against the very ideologies that this nation is built upon,” she said.

Sanjana Ragudaran, Ph.D., an assistant professor of social work, specializing in policy and advocacy, said that understanding the facts of the situation at the border is pivotal. “We are not at war and there is nothing out of the ordinary happening at the border. Border patrol apprehensions have decreased from 1.6 million individuals in 2000 to approximately 300,000 in 2017,” she said, citing reports from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“I think that Trump should build the wall because it limits the amount of illegal immigrants we have coming into our country. With the wall, it will serve as a security system to ensure that our country is safe, and we are not overpopulated,” said Celine Powell, a sophomore communication student and Vice President of the University’s Republican Club. “As a U.S. citizen, I believe that the wall is a great idea and it enforces control in America.” 

Ragudaran stressed the importance of understand the conditions in certain Central American countries; many migrants flee violence to seek protection and work. “This is a humanitarian crisis and we are clearly failing from this perspective,” she said.  

The largest number of undocumented immigrants are individuals who overstay after their visa has expired. So Ragudaran explained that establishing policies that allow for economic migrants to obtain temporary work visas, creating alternatives to detention and separation of families at the border, and establishing protocol for people applying for protection can be done instead.

In addition to the humanitarian issues that could spur from declaring a national emergency, the economic impact it could have is also a factor. Money could be moved from the military budget, directing money that would otherwise be used in building housing on military bases for service members to construct the wall.

“We have such a substantial military budget, but we lack respect for our men and women in service and our veterans,” said Ragudaran. “Families are struggling financially, and we grossly lack services for our veterans.”

Because a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border was a promise that the president touted on his campaign trail in 2016, the outcome of his declaration will dramatically affect his approval ratings among his supporters, as well the upcoming presidential election in 2020,  Chapman explained.

“This will be a regular talking point for Democrats opposition candidates in the 2020 election. And if it does motivate Republican primary challengers, it will also be a strong point for them as well,” he said. “They will characterize it as an autocratic-like strategy of sidestepping governmental institutions.”