The Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts is among the 75 religious organizations to file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit challenging President Donald Trump’s use of emergency powers to secure funds to build an expanded wall along the U.S. southern border with Mexico.
In his appendix entry to the brief, Diocesan Bishop Douglas Fisher calls Trump’s action “a clear violation” of the right of Congress to approve how funds from the U.S. Treasury are to be spend.
“The President’s use of government funds for building the southern border wall is a clear violation of the Congress’ power of the purse,” Fisher’s statement reads.
“The situation at our southern border may quite rightly be seen as a crisis as the President’s policy shifts have stranded asylum seekers in Mexico for an indeterminate time. The impact of his change to national policy has endangered the lives of people who seek safety here. What has been done to the children under orders from the President, is immoral and an affront to human dignity. I join this amicus brief on behalf of the Episcopalians in Western Massachusetts who have promised to uphold the dignity of every human being.”
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in February on behalf of the Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition that challenges the president’s emergency powers declaration to secure funding for a border wall after Congress did not approve his request for $5.7 billion for such construction.
In May, a federal district court judge issued a preliminary injunction that barred the administration from transferring pension and other funds from military accounts for this purpose on the basis that Congress did not authorize the funds be used in this way by the administration.
In 5 to 4 ruling in July, the U.S. Supreme Court said construction of the wall could begin with $2.5 billion in Pentagon funding while the litigation continues.
In the wake of that ruling, the ACLU filed a motion with the Ninth Circuit to expedite hearings in the lawsuit that names Trump as a defendant.
The construction of an expanded wall on the southern border and how Trump would fund it resulted in a partial government shutdown in December as he sought $5.7 billion for the physical barrier.
A further government shutdown was averted in February when he approved Congress’s $333 billion budget for the rest of the current fiscal year, but then declared a national emergency to secure some of the $4 billion less in border funding Congress did not allocate.
Trump made a campaign promise to build a wall along all of the country’s 2,000-mile southern border, later acknowledging the existence of natural landmarks like lakes and mountains along that terrain. There is said to be some 654 miles of existing man-made barriers, nearly half of which are designed to stop anyone from walking across with the rest in the form of fencing to stop vehicles.
His administration is said to have secured more than $6 billion to date in Congress-approved funding as well as monies secured through his emergency declaration that has only started to build some 336 miles of expected new or replacement barriers.
Some property owners have gone to court to prevent erection of physical barriers on their land and Congress has forbidden construction at a number of designated local landmarks.
Some surveys have shown most Americans oppose expanding the wall, fencing is generally seen as no barrier to cartels smuggling illegal drugs into the country and while joining in approving some funding for the wall in the February budget, Democrats have argued that money needs to be spent on other ways of addressing the needs of the thousands of immigrants, including unaccompanied minors, seeking asylum in this country that has been allowed under law.
Religious groups besides Episcopalians filing friends-of-the court briefs include other Christian denominations as well as Jewish and Muslim organizations.
Catholic groups include the Franciscan Friars of the Province of St. Barbara that covers California, Arizona, Washington, and Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico.
“We have a long tradition of ministering to migrants and are very familiar with the problems facing migrants in their home countries and in the United States,” their brief reads.
“Pope Francis has told Donald Trump and his advisers that his wall is ‘not Christian’ and that we should build bridges, not walls. The friars of our Province agree with Pope Francis’s comments. We believe further that the border wall being pursued by the Trump Administration is not a solution to the problems facing either U.S. residents or migrants and that the money being spent illegally by the Administration to build the wall could be put to far more productive uses.”