Judge blocks Trump from building sections of border wall

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal judge has blocked President Donald Trump from building key sections of his border wall with money secured under his declaration of a national emergency, delivering what may prove a temporary setback on one of his highest priorities.

U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr.'s order, issued Friday, prevents work from beginning on two of the highest-priority, Pentagon-funded wall projects — one spanning 46 miles (74 kilometers) in New Mexico and another covering 5 miles (8 kilometers) in Yuma, Arizona.

On Saturday, Trump pledged to file an expedited appeal of the ruling.

Trump, who is visiting Japan, tweeted: "Another activist Obama appointed judge has just ruled against us on a section of the Southern Wall that is already under construction. This is a ruling against Border Security and in favor of crime, drugs and human trafficking. We are asking for an expedited appeal!"

While Gilliam's order applied only to those first-in-line projects, the judge made clear that he felt the challengers were likely to prevail at trial on their argument that the president was wrongly ignoring Congress' wishes by diverting Defense Department money.

"Congress's 'absolute' control over federal expenditures_even when that control may frustrate the desires of the Executive Branch regarding initiatives it views as important_is not a bug in our constitutional system. It is a feature of that system, and an essential one," he wrote in his 56-page opinion.

It wasn't a total defeat for the administration. Gilliam, an Oakland-based appointee of President Barack Obama, rejected a request by California and 19 other states to prevent the diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars in Treasury asset forfeiture funds to wall construction, in part because he felt they were unlikely to prevail on arguments that the administration skirted environmental impact reviews.

The delay may be temporary. The question for Gilliam was whether to allow construction with Defense and Treasury funds while the lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the state attorneys general were being considered. The cases still must be heard on their merits.

"This order is a win for our system of checks and balances, the rule of law, and border communities," said Dror Ladin, an attorney for the ACLU, which represented the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Friday.

The administration faces several lawsuits over the emergency declaration but only one other seeks to block construction during the legal challenge. A judge in Washington, D.C., on Thursday heard arguments on a challenge brought by the U.S. House of Representatives that says the money shifting violates the constitution. The judge was weighing whether the lawmakers even had the ability to sue the president instead of working through political routes to resolve the bitter dispute.

At stake is billions of dollars that would allow Trump to make progress in a signature campaign promise heading into his campaign for a second term.

Trump declared a national emergency in February after losing a fight with the Democratic-led House that led to a 35-day government shutdown. As a compromise on border and immigration enforcement, Congress set aside $1.375 billion to extend or replace existing barriers in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings.

Trump grudgingly accepted the money, but then declared the national emergency to siphon money from other government accounts, identifying up to $8.1 billion for wall construction. The funds include $3.6 billion from military construction funds, $2.5 billion from Defense Department counterdrug activities and $600 million from the Treasury Department's asset forfeiture fund.

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President Trump visits border wall prototypes amid protests
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President Trump visits border wall prototypes amid protests
US President Donald Trump is shown border wall prototypes in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People hold signs during a protest while standing in front of the current border fence and near the prototypes of U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall, in Tijuana, Mexico March 13, 2018. The sign on the right reads "Trump, walls can be jumped over". REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
US President Donald Trump inspects border wall prototypes in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People attach a sign reading "Trump, stop the mass deportations" to the current border fence and near the prototypes of U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall, during a protest in Tijuana, Mexico March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
US President Donald Trump's motorcade arrives at the border fence in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People hold signs reading "No to the wall" and "Trump, put your wall, but in your territory, not in ours", during a protest near the prototypes of U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall, seen behind the current border fence, in Tijuana, Mexico March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
US President Donald Trump is shown border wall prototypes with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (L) in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A man holds a sign reading "Trump, put your wall, but in your territory, not in ours", during a protest near the prototypes of U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall, seen behind the current border fence, in Tijuana, Mexico March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
US President Donald Trump arrives to inspect border wall prototypes in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People hold signs reading "No to the wall, Trump," and "Trump, we are not enemies of the USA" during a protest near the prototypes of U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall, seen behind the current border fence, in Tijuana, Mexico March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
US President Donald Trump speaks during an inspection of border wall prototypes in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. Donald Trump -- making his first trip to California as president -- warned there would be 'bedlam' without the controversial wall he wants to build on the border with Mexico, as he inspected several prototype barriers. The trip to the 'Golden State' -- the most populous in the country and a Democratic stronghold -- was largely upstaged by his own announcement that he had sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Mexican Federal Police officers stand guard the Mexican side of the Mexico-US border in Tijuana, Baja California state, from where prototypes of the border wall, which US President Donald Trump will inspect on the outskirts of San Diego, in the US, are visible on March 13, 2018. Fresh off a cabinet reshuffle, President Donald Trump was headed for Democratic stronghold California on Tuesday to inspect prototypes of the controversial border wall with Mexico that was the centerpiece of his White House campaign. / AFP PHOTO / GUILLERMO ARIAS (Photo credit should read GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP/Getty Images)
People hold signs reading "Trump, we will not pay for the wall" and "Trump, stop the mass deportations" near the border fence between Mexico and the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Journalists gather at a rooftop near the US -Mexico border as President Trump is expected to inspect the border wall prototypes built outskirts San Diego, in Tijuana, Baja California State, Mexico, on March 13, 2018. Fresh off a cabinet reshuffle, President Donald Trump was headed for Democratic stronghold California on Tuesday to inspect prototypes of the controversial border wall with Mexico that was the centerpiece of his White House campaign. / AFP PHOTO / GUILLERMO ARIAS (Photo credit should read GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. police officers use a ladder to climb up a truck parked in front of the prototypes of U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall, on the U.S. side of the current border fence, in Tijuana, Mexico March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
An agent faces Mexico while standing by the vehicle of U.S. President Donald Trump at the border near San Diego, California, where Trump reviewed wall prototypes designed to serve as a protective barrier against illegal immigrants, drugs and smuggled weapons, March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Border Patrol Agent sits on horseback near U.S. President Donald Trump's motorcade during a tour of U.S.-Mexico border wall prototypes near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in San Diego, California. U.S., March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
TIJUANA, MEXICO - MARCH 13:Anti-Trump protestors demonstrate on the Mexico side of the border before the arrival of the U.S. President to inspect the prototypes of the proposed border wall on March 13, 2018 in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
The motorcade carrying US President Donald Trump drives past a US-Mexico border fence as Trump head for an inspection of border wall prototypes in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. Donald Trump -- making his first trip to California as president -- warned there would be 'bedlam' without the controversial wall he wants to build on the border with Mexico, as he inspected several prototype barriers. The trip to the 'Golden State' -- the most populous in the country and a Democratic stronghold -- was largely upstaged by his own announcement that he had sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Mounted Border Patrol agents are seen as US President Donald Trump inspects border wall prototypes in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. Donald Trump -- making his first trip to California as president -- warned there would be 'bedlam' without the controversial wall he wants to build on the border with Mexico, as he inspected several prototype barriers. The trip to the 'Golden State' -- the most populous in the country and a Democratic stronghold -- was largely upstaged by his own announcement that he had sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump inspects border wall prototypes in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. Donald Trump -- making his first trip to California as president -- warned there would be 'bedlam' without the controversial wall he wants to build on the border with Mexico, as he inspected several prototype barriers. The trip to the 'Golden State' -- the most populous in the country and a Democratic stronghold -- was largely upstaged by his own announcement that he had sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump holds up a poster of before and after photos of a segment of the border wall prototypes with Chief Patrol Agent Rodney S. Scott (R) in San Diego, California on March 13, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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The Defense Department has already transferred the counterdrug money. Patrick Shanahan, the acting defense secretary, is expected to decide any day whether to transfer the military construction funds.

The president's adversaries say the emergency declaration was an illegal attempt to ignore Congress, which authorized far less wall spending than Trump wanted. The administration said Trump was protecting national security as unprecedented numbers of Central American asylum-seeking families arrive at the U.S. border.

The administration has awarded 11 wall contracts for a combined $2.76 billion — including three in the last two months that draw on Defense Department counterdrug money — and is preparing for a flurry of construction that the president is already celebrating at campaign-style rallies.

The Army Corps of Engineers recently announced several large contacts with Pentagon funding. Last month, SLSCO Ltd. of Galveston, Texas, won a $789 million award to replace 46 miles (74 kilometers) of barrier in New Mexico — the one that Gilliam blocked on Friday.

Last week, Southwest Valley Constructors of Albuquerque, New Mexico, won a $646 million award to replace 63 miles (101 kilometers) in the Border Patrol's Tucson, Arizona, sector, which Gilliam did not stop. Barnard Construction Co. of Bozeman, Montana, won a $141.8 million contract to replace 5 miles (8 kilometers) in Yuma that Gilliam blocked and 15 miles (24 kilometers) in El Centro, California, which he did not address.

Gilliam's ruling gives a green light — at least for now — for the administration to tap the Treasury funds, which it has said it plans to use to extend barriers in Rio Grande Valley.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat and frequent Trump adversary, didn't comment directly on his defeat but congratulated the ACLU and its clients "in securing this critical victory for our states and communities."

Trump inherited barriers covering 654 miles (1,046 kilometers), or about one-third of the border with Mexico. Of the 244 miles (390 kilometers) in awarded contracts, more than half is with Pentagon money. All but 14 miles (22 kilometers) awarded so far are to replace existing barriers, not extend coverage.

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