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President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency to tap into billions of dollars Congress declined to give him for his long-promised southwestern border wall that he’s always said Mexico will pay for, one way or the other.
The move will likely trigger legislation in the Democrat-controlled U.S. House to block the declaration and may wind up in a long and costly legal battle. It is also debatable whether illegal immigration – used extensively at Trump’s resort properties – is in fact an emergency given that Republicans controlling all of Congress the last two years failed to fully fund the wall.
The good news is that Congress passed a spending bill with about $1.3 billion in border fencing funds that Trump is expected to sign and that will keep federal government – set to close on Friday – open through September.
There has been little mention during the last three weeks of congressional conference committee debates over the government spending bill of any sort of meaningful immigration reform or protections for DACA recipients. That situation remains another Trump-induced legal battle.
Colorado Democrats were quick to criticize the national emergency declaration on Friday.
“President Donald Trump’s plan to circumvent Congress and declare a state of emergency for his personal vanity project is an astonishing abuse of power,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a prepared statement.
“This is not only a waste of taxpayer dollars but a distraction from the many real issues that affect hardworking Coloradans,” added Polis, who served in Congress for eight years and represented the eastern end of Eagle County, including Vail. “While the president tries to separate us — Coloradans, and my administration, will continue to unite by building a Colorado for all.”
Vail native Mike Johnston, a former Denver state senator who is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020, issued this statement:
“We have real national emergencies in this country. Climate change is a national emergency. Gun violence is a national emergency. The lack of affordable healthcare is a national emergency. Yet Donald Trump and Cory Gardner ignore these problems and instead waste our country’s time and money on an unnecessary project that will do nothing to keep America safer. When I’m in the Senate, I’ll fight to tackle the real emergencies facing our country.”
Gardner did not immediately issue a statement regarding the use of national emergency powers for the wall, either on his official website or on social media. He has in the past rejected the use of a government shutdown to obtain border wall funding, which he supports. Trump’s signing of the spending bill will avert another shutdown after the longest in U.S. history ended just last month.
During a Colorado Public Radio interview on Thursday, Gardner said he personally told Trump he opposed declaring a national emergency, and on KOA Radio on Wednesday, Gardner said, “I think declaring a national emergency is not the right idea.” But on Friday, when asked by the Denver Post if he supports the national emergency declaration, Gardner said: “I’m currently reviewing the authorities the Administration is using to declare a national emergency.”
That drew this rebuke from the Colorado Democratic Party:
“Yesterday, Cory Gardner stated definitively that he didn’t support the President issuing a national emergency to pay for an immoral border wall. Now, less than 24 hours later, Gardner isn’t sure and is ‘reviewing’ the President’s fake national emergency?” Colorado Democratic Party spokesman David Pourshoushtari said.
“It should worry Coloradans that when given a fairly easy choice between opposing or supporting President Trump’s unconstitutional power grab, Cory Gardner has to issue a statement that he’s thinking about it. Cory continues to want it both ways, but he has a choice to make. Will Cory Gardner stand up for Colorado and our democracy, or will he side with Mitch McConnell and a President he endorsed?”
Democratic Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet issued this statement:
“Whatever your politics, every American should worry about President Trump’s attempt to bypass the U.S. Congress by inventing a national emergency. This is not how the world’s oldest democracy should conduct itself. The President should not declare a national emergency to fulfill a campaign promise that neither the Congress nor the American people support. This is a dangerous precedent that should concern everyone who cares about the health of our democracy and our institutions.”
Immigration reform and advocacy groups were also quick to criticize the emergency declaration, taking note of Trump’s admiration for the Chinese death penalty for drug offenses. Trump recently signed a criminal justice reform bill to ease federal penalties for drug crimes.
Nicole Melaku of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition issued this statement:
“[Trump’s] rhetoric on connecting crime and immigration is simply false,” Melaku said. “According to CPB, most drug seizures occur at port of entries. Let’s be clear: families seeking safety, refuge, and opportunity are not the cause of our country’s drug epidemic.
“In addition, President Trump lifted up China’s Xi Jingping’s approach to dealing with drug trafficking and implied the United States should institute the death penalty for drug traffickers. Trump lifted up a country known for systematic human rights abuses as the standard, which is just as reprehensible.”
Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, released this statement:
“President Trump plans to declare an emergency are fueled by his exaggerated and racist perception of Latinos and immigrants and because the right wing media has called him weak. The very fact that Trump has delayed so long illustrates that there is no true emergency to be addressed.
“The real emergency lies in the people whose lives have been affected by stalled immigration reform, the many DACA recipients and TPS holders whose lives have been put on hold not knowing whether they will be able to stay in this country, and the innumerable families separated by unjust immigration enforcement.”
The following is a re-post of a RealVail.com story on local DACA recipients that first published in the Vail Daily on Feb. 6 when the conference committee was still working on a compromise spending bill that could have included a long-term DACA fix.
Local Dreamers want DACA removed from Trump’s wall debate
Rita Gutierrez was born in Mexico but grew up in Eagle County, graduated from Battle Mountain High School, became the first in her family to graduate college, works at a Vail restaurant and will soon start an administrative job with a local health care provider.
But the DACA recipient still lives in daily fear that someday she’ll have to permanently return to a place she does not know – a place where she’s had relatives killed in drug-related violence.
“I’ve been in Eagle County since I was six months old, and I’m turning 23 this year. I’ve been here my whole life, and this is the place I know as home,” said Gutierrez, who was born in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
“I have family members who have been shot and killed … I still have family [in Chihuahua] and I would like to see them and meet them for the first time. At the same time, it’s scary. I’ve never been there,” Gutierrez added. “I don’t know what it’s like.”
Gutierrez is registered in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program launched by an Obama administration executive order in 2012 but rescinded by the Trump administration in 2017. It allows people who were brought to the country before Jan. 1, 2010, and under the age 16, to register with the federal government so they can legally work and study in the United States.
DACA, which has been used as a bargaining chip in President Donald Trump’s push for a border wall, has been granted to more than 17,000 Colorado residents like Gutierrez and more than 700,000 people nationwide. Its recipients, who go through rigorous law enforcement background checks, are more commonly known as Dreamers after a proposed bill called the DREAM Act.
“There’s always going to be immigration,” said DACA recipient Alex Trujillo, 22, who like Gutierrez graduated from Battle Mountain and Colorado Mesa University. “Everybody is looking to better themselves and get a little piece of the American dream, right? Speaking for all the Dreamers, [we’d like to] just have our card and not build the wall.”
Trump did not mention the Dreamers in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, but he did continue to rail against illegal immigration and call for more border-wall funding. The federal government just endured its longest ever partial shutdown after Congress refused the president’s request for nearly $6 billion in border-wall funding, and a 17-member bipartisan conference committee has until Feb. 15 to reach a compromise and avoid another shutdown.
A three-year temporary extension of DACA, with no path to citizenship, was part of a failed Senate bill late last month that included $5.7 billion in federal funding for border wall that Trump has long promised Mexico will pay for. He has also previously promised to show Dreamers “great heart” but then derailed a deal that would have protected DACA while providing $25 billion in wall funding just last year.
“I think his promises are just full of crap at this point. He shut the government for a wall. What sense does that make?” said Gutierrez, adding that she crossed into the country through a port of entry in the back of a semi. She says a wall will do no good and is a waste of her tax dollars but if that’s what it takes to secure DACA and get a green card, then so bet it.
“Yeah, give him the wall, just give us our papers; we’ve been here long enough. We’ll help him build it. Just give me a green card,” said Gutierrez, who adds that she’s very appreciative of all the opportunities she’s had in Eagle County, from the SOS Outreach program to The Cycle Effect to the overall support of local residents.
“Eagle County tends to be a very understanding community, and a lot of people they understand struggling and they’re willing to help you out,” said Gutierrez, who has tried to give back to her local community through volunteering and working with others.
Trujillo has also tried hard to give back to the only community he’s ever known, graduating from SOS and mentoring at-risk youth. Last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision against expediting a ruling on the Republican legal challenge of DACA provided a little more certainty for Trujillo, who wants to pursue his master’s degree but needs to keep working.
A member of Battle Mountain’s state championship soccer team in 2012, Trujillo now works for a sports performance training facility in Denver. He was brought to Eagle County from Mexico at the age of five, and his biggest issue with Trump is that the president has benefited from cheap immigrant labor at his hotels and golf resorts for years.
“I think President Trump knows about all the people who work at his places, right? If it’s a restaurant, most people in the kitchen there are Hispanic. It’s a little bit hypocritical, right?” Trujillo said. “Obviously, we know that there’s Hispanics everywhere working in his hotels.”
Trujillo wants to avoid getting too political, but he would like the DACA question removed from the wall debate.
DACA recipient Marissa Molina, 26, grew up in Glenwood Springs after being brought to Colorado from Mexico when was nine. She now works in Denver for the tech industry immigration lobbying group FWD.us, where she was recently named Colorado state immigration manager.
“From my immediate circle of people, I know engineers, I know people who are working at Facebook and Google and other big industries, people who are very skilled construction workers in the valley,” said Molina, a Glenwood Springs High School and Fort Lewis College graduate.
“Whether you went to college or not as a DACA recipient, you’re contributing a lot to this country, and being able to have citizenship is just an opportunity to continue to do that without ever feeling like you have this looming threat about your safety and the police [in a place] you’ve always called home,” Molina said.
FWD.us is urging anyone who’s previously enrolled in DACA to renew as soon as possible. No new registrations are being accepted during the legal challenge, but previous DACA recipients can go to InformedImmigrant.com for more information.
As for Congress, the bipartisan DREAM Act to permanently protect and provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers – a bill supported by both Colorado senators – continues to languish.
Vail native Mike Johnston, who recently announced he hopes to challenge Republican Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020, blasted both Trump and Gardner in the wake of the president’s State of the Union speech.
“[Trump] doubled down on his fear mongering, used the lives of immigrants as political pawns, and continued to push for an unnecessary wall that Coloradans simply don’t want,” Johnston said in an email statement. “The most alarming part, though, is that Republican Cory Gardner continues to stand by Trump. In fact, Gardner endorsed Trump’s reelection just last week.”
While that’s true, Gardner spokesman Jerrod Dobkin says Gardner has been working hard on protecting the Dreamers, including sponsoring the DREAM Act.
“Sen. Gardner strongly supports efforts to increase funding for border security and to fix our broken immigration system,” Dobkin said in an email. “Sen. Gardner has led multiple bipartisan immigration groups to find a solution on immigration reforms and border security.”