California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says he plans to sue the Trump administration the moment the president declares a national emergency to free up funds for a border wall.
Becerra was responding in Spanish to President Trump’s State of the Union address to Congress. But he released his response before Trump even delivered the first words of his remarks, anticipating a speech in which the president doubled down on his demand for the construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The idea of declaring a state of emergency on the border that does not exist, to justify robbing funds that belong to the victims of fires, floods and hurricanes, to pay for the wall is not only immoral, it is illegal,” Becerra said in Spanish, alluding to reports that Trump may tap into disaster relief funds to construct the wall.
The president did not mention using emergency powers to build the wall in his speech, but has suggested to reporters that he might consider using those powers if Congress doesn’t agree to authorize its funding in a spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security. Declaring a national emergency would allow the president to divert funding set aside for other purposes for the wall.
In his speech, Trump painted an urgent crisis at the border, speaking of “large, organized caravans” at the southern border, but most of the migrants waiting at the border have obtained a humanitarian visa from the Mexican government, according to NPR’s John Burnett and Carrie Kahn. Eddie Trevino, a Cameron County Judge in Brownsville, recently told reporters: “There is no Central American invasion. This is a manufactured crisis.”
“We are ready to reject this senseless proposal in court the moment it touches the ground,” Becerra said.
In his address, Trump reiterated his plan for a border wall as a moral and security issue and stressed that Congress has until Feb. 15 to pass a bill to “fund our government, protect our homeland, and secure our Southern Border.”
“I will get it built,” Trump told Congress. “Walls work and walls save lives.”
President Trump’s insistence on a border wall ultimately led to a stand-off between Congress and the president in December and January, resulting in the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history.
If Trump declared a national emergency, the act could be voted down in Congress, according to NPR’s Scott Horsley. Trump would face strong pushback immediately by the Democratic-controlled House, but he is also facing opposition from some members of his own party in the Republican-controlled Senate, which could mean a resolution of disapproval could pass both chambers.
Legal action in the federal courts is also another likely route to challenge any emergency declaration, and Becerra is a familiar opponent. Since taking the post of California’s top lawyer in January 2017, Becerra has sued the Trump administration 45 times on behalf of California, more than any other state Attorney General.
“In the courts or in Congress or in the voting booths, we have to fight for our agenda,” Becerra said. “And we’re winning.”
Becerra has sued the administration over several immigration-related actions, including the decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, which could make non-citizens less likely to participate in the count, given the increased immigration enforcement under the Trump administration.
California and other states also sued the administration over its plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which protects certain immigrants from being deported. In early January, a federal judge blocked that decision and said the program could continue as lawsuits move forward in court.
Becerra, 61, has said that Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric reminds him of the discrimination his own parents faced. His father was born in Sacramento but grew up in Tijuana, Mexico, and his mother was raised in Guadalajara, Mexico.
In his speech, President Trump highlighted crimes committed by people in the country illegally, despite research showing immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than people born in the U.S. and that illegal immigration does not increase the prevalence of violent crime.
“My parents had to put up with some of these indignities, these injustices. My dad couldn’t walk into a restaurant because of the signs that said ‘No dogs or Mexicans allowed’ even though he was a U.S. citizen,” Becerra told NPR member station KQED. “When you hear someone like Donald Trump say those vile things you absorb, you remember, but then you try to move forward as best you can.”
At the end of his response to Trump, Becerra called to mind his parents, who just celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary.
“If you asked them, my parents, what is the state of our union, I’m sure they would paint a more realistic image than that which President Trump presented to us tonight. They know what it means to work hard and respect the rules,” Becerra said.
Before Becerra took the job as California’s first Latino attorney general, he served for more than 24 years in the House, most recently for California’s 34th district, which includes part of Los Angeles County.
Becerra was chosen to give the State of the Union’s Spanish response, a speech given most years since 2011, by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif..
“Attorney General Becerra is a towering champion of equal justice and a tireless fighter,” Speaker Pelosi said in a statement. She continued that Becerra would deliver a “strong message of progress for all American families and communities.”
Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and State House Minority Leader delivered the English language response to the State of the Union. Abrams did not touch on immigration issues, leaving that to be done in Spanish, the language spoken by many of the immigrants who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border.