Graphic via Shutterstock / COURIER Graphic via Shutterstock / COURIER

The president has repeatedly promised that Mexico would pay for the border wall, but so far, every penny of funding has come from American taxpayers and at the expense of military projects.

The Trump administration announced Thursday it would once again divert billions of dollars from the Defense Department’s budget to fund construction of President Trump’s long-promised border wall.

The Pentagon notified Congress that it would cut $3.8 billion in funding for 17 Army, Navy, and Air Force military programs to free up money for the wall along the country’s southwestern border with Mexico. This marks the second year in a row that the administration has circumvented congressional authority over federal spending and declared a national emergency to reallocate Defense Department funding. 

The funds were intended to go toward ships, F-35 fighter jets, and combat aircrafts. Instead, they will be used to help build Trump’s long-promised border wall. 

Ever since he first declared his candidacy for president in 2015, Trump has said repeatedly that Mexico would pay for his wall, but so far, every penny of funding has come from American taxpayers and at the expense of military projects.

The administration previously raided the Defense Department’s budget to the tune of $3.6 billion in 2019. In approving the new $3.8 billion request from the Department of Homeland Security this week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper also admitted more cuts could be coming, the Associated Press reported. Those cuts could number as high as $3.4 billion, according to the New York Times. That would bring the total amount taken from the Defense Department this year to $7.2 billion.

The administration’s financial shuffle was immediately criticized by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.).

“This Administration has already stolen billions from the Department of Defense in order to begin building the President’s vanity wall and today they are doubling down on bad policy,” Smith said in a statement. “The President loves to take credit for ‘rebuilding’ the military, but today’s reprogramming decision does the exact opposite – it will prevent the acquisition of critical ships, vehicles, and aircraft.” 

Other Democrats took to Twitter to accuse Trump of stealing money and sidestepping the Constitution.

Some Republicans also expressed frustration over the administration’s reallocation of congressionally approved funding.

“Once those choices have been made, the Department of Defense cannot change them in pursuit of their own priorities without the approval of Congress,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) told the New York Times. “Attempts to do so undermines the principle of civilian control of the military and is in violation of the separation of powers within the Constitution.”

The American Civil Liberties Union said on Thursday it planned to ask a federal court to block the financial transfer as part of its ongoing lawsuit challenging the administration’s national emergency declaration.

Prior transfers have also been the subject of legal challenges, but a federal judge ruled in January that Trump could use the $3.6 billion taken in 2018 to build the wall while the broader lawsuit plays out in court.

The administration has thus far completed construction on 119 miles of border wall, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), though most of that work has involved replacing old barriers with newer structures. 

The construction itself has not been without controversy either, as blasting operations have begun at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, an Arizona ecological preserve that includes Native American ancestral lands and burial grounds. Critics fear that the construction will cause significant damage or destroy more than 20 archaeological sites in Organ Pipe.

In total, CBP expects 450 miles of wall construction to be completed by the end of 2020.