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Trump's border national emergency plan draws outrage and legal threats from some in Texas

The president looks poised to sign a bill that will avert another government shutdown, then use an emergency declaration to instruct the military to build his wall. From Congress to the border, Texans react.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at El Paso County Coliseum in El Paso on Feb. 11, 2019.

President Donald Trump didn't get everything he wanted from Congress for his long-promised border wall, so he signaled Thursday that he's going to declare a national emergency to make it happen. That announcement prompted outrage from Democrats, ambivalence from Republicans and a legal threat from one local government.

The advocacy groups Protect Democracy and the Niskanen Center announced that they planned to represent El Paso County in a lawsuit over the order "if it becomes necessary." And Ricardo Samaniego, the El Paso County judge, took umbrage with the word "emergency," noting that his border community is one of the safety places in the country.

"[Trump] has never reached out to the leadership of our community to determine if this is actually an emergency," Samaniego said. "This threatened emergency declaration will further damage El Paso County’s reputation and economy, and we are determined to stop this from happening.”

News of the planned order came from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who told senators that Trump is ready to sign a compromise appropriations bill that would avert another government shutdown — and give him significantly less money for a border wall than he'd demanded late last year, when his standoff with Congress over wall funding triggered a historically long 35-day shutdown. The bill contains $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new barrier, much less than the $5.7 billion Trump had sought to build more than 200 miles of barriers.

The House and Senate both overwhelmingly approved the bill Thursday. And Trump appears poised to declare an emergency and turn to the military to build additional miles of wall — although a group of Democratic senators quickly filed a bill aimed at stopping him.

Opinions have been mixed among Texas politicians. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican who chaired Trump's 2016 campaign in Texas, said late last month that he would be "all in" on the idea.

"Call the emergency order," Patrick said in a Fox News interview. "Get it done."

Texas' U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, have not been as enthusiastic. Cornyn has expressed deep reservations, and Cruz has asserted there are ways for the Trump administration to do it under the law, but officials need to be careful to not create a "slippery slope" for a future president to abuse his or her power.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, who represents more border land than any other Texan, continued to oppose the idea.

"I've made it very clear, I don't think there's a need to declare a national emergency," he said. "Now, it's within his powers to do that. However the question could be, where does he find the money to do this?"

"If it's going to be [the Department of Defense], what do we cut? We just got done spending the last four years rebuilding the military."

Texas Democrats have been steadfast in their opposition.

"This whole thing is a travesty," said U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, a Brownsville Democrat who represents part of the border. He expressed concerns that funds for Army Corps of Engineers projects could be diverted to a wall and said he was in the process of filing legislation on eminent domain, which will need to be used to build the barrier.

U.S. Rep Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, called the president's reported plan "juvenile," saying such a declaration would create a host of legal issues and strain the relationship between the United States and Mexico, Texas' largest trading partner.

“Seizing lands across the southwest border for President Trump’s border wall would encroach on private property rights, lead to economic and agricultural losses, inflame U.S.-Mexico relations, infringe on the property rights of Native Americans, endanger public lands and wildlife, create flood hazards and fail to deter illegal immigration," Gonzalez said in a statement. "President Trump is moving into uncharted territory with his emergency powers utilization, which I am sure will not be met with open arms.”

César Blanco, a Democratic state representative who represents part of El Paso — where Trump held a rally Monday and repeated his arguments for the wall — called the planned declaration "dangerous and radical" and questioned why Trump couldn't get funding for the wall during the two years when Republicans controlled Congress.

"This declaration is a dangerous step into dark territory for a president that acts on his worst political impulses," he said. "He has trampled on the rule of law and disregarded accepted facts, even from military generals, the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community. This declaration is purely political.

"There is no national security crisis on the border," Blanco added. "The only crisis we have is a humanitarian crisis."

In the Rio Grande Valley, where most of the new border barrier would be constructed, Nayda Alvarez worries that it would cut through her backyard and onto the nearby eight-acre plot that’s been in her family for hundreds of years.

The 47-year-old speech teacher said she's already received letters from the government wanting to survey her land in Starr County; she's denied them entry. Alvarez still doesn’t know if the fence will materialize but said Thursday that she was frustrated by the news that Trump plans to declare an emergency to build the barrier.

“I hope it’s an eye-opener for everybody to realize he’s not in his full state of mind,” Alvarez said.

Yvette Gaytan, Alvarez's longtime friend and next-door neighbor, said she also wants to know what will happen to her family’s land, which features their favorite fishing spot by the river.

“I don’t know if I’m more in shock, or it’s kind of this sense of doom,” Gaytan said. “It’s happening."

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