Puerto Rican gov, congresswoman decry use of recovery funds to build U.S. border wall
SAN JUAN – Doubling down on his election campaign theme that the United States must secure its border, President Trump was reportedly considering constructing a border wall using his authority to invoke a national emergency and utilizing funds earmarked by Congress for natural disaster recovery or preparedness.
Trump’s administration has vowed to ensure “the swift removal of unlawful entrants,” end “chain migration,” eliminate the Visa Lottery and “moving the country to a merit-based entry system,” according to the White House.
The impasse between Trump and congressional Democrats to fund government operations–partially halted for 20 days, one day short of the longest time on record–has left unpaid some 800,000 federal workers, of which an estimated 14,600 work in Puerto Rico.
“No wall should be funded on the pain and suffering of United States citizens who have endured tragedy and loss through a natural disaster. This includes those citizens that live in California, Texas, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and other jurisdictions. Today it’s us, tomorrow it could be you,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said in a statement Friday.
He further said: “No justification should be considered to reclassify the money that US citizens will use to rebuild their communities. If anything, the conversation should be about how we get more resources to rebuild those impacted areas faster.
“Since the reports are coming from unidentified sources, the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, should explicitly state his intent. Will he support the rebuild of Puerto Rico, California, Texas, US Virgin Islands, and others, or undermine it?
“This is a classic case of choosing between obstruction and construction. Which side are you on, President Trump?
“Mister President, don’t tear down US citizens to build a wall. Help the United States of America rebuild. It is the right thing to do.”
Trump reiterated Thursday that a wall is the “only [way] you’re going to have border security—there’s only way: You can have all the technology in the world. I’m a professional at technology. But if you don’t have a steel barrier or a wall of some kind—strong, powerful—you’re going to have human trafficking; you’re going to have drugs pouring across the border; you’re going to have MS-13 and the gangs coming in.”
Those assertions are debatable, as they have been found unsupported by data by several media and independent fact-checkers.
Regarding the use of assigned disaster response funds, he stressed he has “the absolute right to declare a national emergency. The lawyers have so advised me. I’m not prepared to do that yet. But if I have to, I will,” stressing, “This is a crisis,” as have echoed most members of his administration.
Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress, Jenniffer González, who backs the president in erecting more barriers to enclose the nearly 2,000-mile border, railed against the funding alternative considered by Trump.
“The humanitarian crisis on the southern border of the United States, identified by both President Obama and President Trump, cannot be resolved by removing money approved for disaster mitigation in Puerto Rico at the expense of the poorest American citizens, [who are] treated with total inequality,” she said in a statement issued Friday.
She further added: “As a Resident Commissioner, I vehemently reject that game with our pain and hope. Congress approved and President Trump signed those assignments with an express purpose and Our People do not deserve that treatment.
“While the President has broad military authority, as Commander in Chief, when it comes to declaring a national emergency, it is unacceptable and I will not support the reallocation of funds, which we approved in a bipartisan effort in Congress for the recovery and reconstruction of Puerto Rico.
“We have not received the disbursement of funds [which she said is $2.5 billion] after more than a year has elapsed since the impact of Hurricane Maria and now using this as a political football is not what American citizens in Puerto Rico deserve.
“The lives of the residents of the island are still in danger and I will defend their safety and well-being. We must make sure we comply with the intention of Congress and use the money to rebuild a stronger and more resilient Puerto Rico.”