ALAMOGORDO, NEW MEXICO — House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler on Monday bluntly warned President Trump against declaring a national emergency along the southern border and vowed to use Congress and the courts to challenge any such effort.
“We will oppose any effort by the president to make himself a king and a tyrant,” Nadler said.
President Trump on Tuesday will speak to the nation in a primetime telecast that has been billed as addressing a “national security” crisis at the border, and on Monday, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters that the White House is actively exploring the use of emergency powers to build a border wall.
“The president has no authority to usurp Congress’s power of the purse,” Nadler, of New York, told reporters here following a tour of a Customs and Border Protection facility in this remote town where 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo died last month. Felipe had been detained with his father after arriving from their village in Guatemala.
Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, agreed, arguing it would be “profoundly inappropriate for the President of the United States to circumvent the legislative branch and single-handedly, against the will of the American people and the American Congress, put up a wall.”
Nadler said there is no national security crisis at the border, and that Trump is wrong to say there is one. “I expect the President to lie to the American people,” Nadler said, arguing, “the only emergency on the border is a humanitarian one caused by this administration’s war on children.”
A congressional source who was on the tour told BuzzFeed News that CBP officials acknowledged detention numbers were down. The source said that the officials told lawmakers that after months of detaining families along the New Mexico border, “the numbers are way down.” No detainees were being held at the Alamogordo facility as of Monday, and according to a source with Annunciation House, an El Paso–based nonprofit that provides housing to migrants released from CBP custody, there has been a “significant drop in releases to us.”
CBP has provided neither Annunciation House nor the lawmakers with an explanation for the reduction in the numbers. The number of monthly border crossings can vary wildly, based on the season, weather conditions in Mexico, and other factors. Additionally, the Trump administration’s efforts to choke off the ability of asylum-seekers to use ports of entry to make their claims have begun pushing more families and individuals into other, less-used parts of the border, like a remote stretch of desert between Yuma and Ajo, Arizona.
The congressional tour came in response to the deaths of at least two asylum-seeking children, Felipe and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal, in CBP custody late last year. Although Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has dispatched doctors and new resources to the border to provide medical care to children and other vulnerable populations in DHS custody, the lawmakers said they remained skeptical.
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, for instance, said he’s concerned with the administration’s punitive approach to immigration, particularly the lengthy detention of unaccompanied children and families. “Children belong in schools, in homes, and in parks, not behind barbed wire,” Merkley said.
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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