The border fence and levee passes through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Hidalgo, Texas on Feb. 7, 2017. Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune
WASHINGTON — The fight over funding for a border wall in Texas and other states appears to be heating up again in Congress this month as lawmakers near a deadline to pass a military funding bill.
The partisan divide over the wall was on display Thursday, when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its $694.9 billion annual defense spending bill on a 16-15 party-line vote. Democrats opposed the bill because it includes $12.2 billion to build new sections of the wall. Senate Democrats are threatening to filibuster the legislation over border funding.
Last week’s split committee vote offers a glimpse into the issues that could arise in the Senate before the Sept. 30 funding deadline, which must also pass through the Democratic-controlled House. In December, a similar fight over border wall funding resulted in the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.
Meanwhile, the House is also expected to soon vote on a resolution opposing the Trump administration’s plan to divert $3.6 billion in military construction fund 175 miles of new wall. About $38 million of that would come out of the budgets of Fort Bliss in El Paso and Joint Base San Antonio. That money, which came after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on the southern border that would allow him to tap into military funding for border security without approval from Congress, would have gone toward a new dining facility in San Antonio and new roads in Fort Bliss.
Trump’s continued aggressive push to build the wall has split the Texas delegation in Congress. Democrats, especially those whose districts are along the border, remain steadfastly opposed. U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, called the decision to divert military funds a “a power grab that will undermine our national security.”
Senate Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have said that they trust the president’s judgement and expect to get those funds back, characterizing immigration through the southern border as a crisis that warrants such funding.
“Texas is being overwhelmed by the magnitude of illegal immigrations flooding into small communities,” said Maria Jeffrey, a spokesperson for Cruz. “Due to inaction by Congress, these communities are left holding the bag on where those illegal immigrants stay, how they will receive medical care, and where they will go when released. This is a security and humanitarian crisis, and Democrats in Congress need to do their jobs and work with Republicans and President Trump to secure the border.”
Still, Jeffrey said Cruz is committed to making sure that military facilities in the state “get what they need to continue serving as pillars of America’s security.”
The resolution in the House, pushed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will force Republican lawmakers whose states may have lost military funding to go on the record about their stance on the declaration..
When a similar resolution passed in March, the majority of Republicans voted against it. Twelve Republicans broke with Trump, however. U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, who represents part of the Texas-Mexico border, was the only Texas Republican to vote with the Democrats.
In many parts of the state, border wall construction has already been finalized. Though congressmen in the Rio Grande Valley included protections for environmentally sensitive areas in the 2018 omnibus spending bill, the rest of the construction will predominantly take place on the over 1,000 miles of privately owned land along the Texas-Mexico border.
Scott Nicol, an activist with the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club, works with property owners whose land is at threat of being seized by the government for border wall construction. He said law makers in Washington lack perspective when making decisions on border security.
“There’s a huge disconnect between the on-the-ground reality that we experience and what most members of congress think the border is,” he said. “For them, its just an abstraction. We are not real people, these are not real landscapes. … How do you make yourself real to somebody who lives in this fantasy world of politics?”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Maria Jeffrey.