Millions and millions of illegal immigrants have broken the law to come and stay in America without authorization. They strain our government services, fragment our communities, cheat those who obey the law and wait in line, and demonstrate disrespect for the United States at a base level. For all these reasons and more, we should build a wall on our southern border.
But declaring a national emergency to bypass Congress is not the way to do it. Trump’s plan is wrong for several reasons.
1) First and foremost, it is unconstitutional. Congress is the only branch authorized to appropriate taxpayer dollars. Congress has explicitly declined to appropriate funding for the wall. Are they wrong to do so? Of course. But the remedy for that is the next election. The president cannot do what he likes anytime Congress disagrees with him.
2) It will likely fail. Immediately following Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, lawsuits will be filed across the country. Trump’s own White House counsel called it a “high litigation risk.” That’s only if Congress doesn’t stop it first, which can be done with a simple majority vote. That vote could very well succeed.
Even if the Congressional vote fails, or Trump vetoes the resolution, courts will almost certainly put it on hold while the case is decided. That means not only is the wall not being built, but military construction that Trump delays or cancels to pay for the wall is stopped as well. Now we don’t get a wall, and our troops don’t get what they need. Lose-lose.
Don’t take my word for it.
No one would confuse Ann Coulter for a NeverTrumper or an immigration squish. There may be no one in this country more dedicated to building a wall. But she has been adamant that the national emergency is a ruse bound to fail.
3) Whether the gambit succeeds or fails, a precedent will be set. Nancy Pelosi has already raised the idea of a future Democrat president declaring gun violence a national emergency and taking action against Congress’s will. The Green New Deal, a fantasy proposal of socialist wish lists, was described as necessary to combat the national emergency of climate change. If we travel down this path, what is to stop the next Democrat in the White House from announcing climate change is too important an issue to leave to Congress, and it is his or her duty to fight the threat regardless of what Congress wants?
If your answer is that a wall is a real solution to a significant problem, and those other examples are not, you would be right, but that is not a legal argument. If the precedent is set, the precedent is set. There is no going back.
Sometimes democracy disappears seemingly overnight in a coup or revolution. Sometimes democracy is slowly chipped away at, when the people decide democracy is just too hard. Make no mistake about it: the president declaring a national emergency as a workaround Congress is a diminution of our democracy – the latest in a series of unconstitutional power grabs over the last decade. This does not mean a dictator is right around the corner. But if we keep slashing away at our democratic norms, he will be coming.
Nothing is worth weakening our democracy, certainly not another empty promise.