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Pentagon approves 3.6 billion for wall construction on Mexican border

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
In this AFP file photo taken on December 12, 2018, a US Customs and Border protection vehicle passes by wall prototypes, as seen from behind the Mexico-US border fence in Tijuana, Mexico.

The US Defense Department says it was freeing up $3.6 billion in funds budgeted for other projects to help build or enhance 175 miles (282 km) a wall on the US-Mexico border as ordered by President Donald Trump.

US Defense Secretary Mike Esper has approved diverting funds from 127 US military construction projects in order to finance the border wall, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffmann said Tuesday.

“Department of Defense components and military departments provided input and prioritized projects based on effects on readiness and consistency with the national defense strategy,” Hoffman said.

In February, Trump declared a national emergency in order to obtain $6.6 billion from other government accounts for wall construction aimed at curbing the flow of undocumented migrants from Mexico and Central America.

Trump declared the national emergency after Congress did not approve the $5.7 billion that his administration had sought for this year’s construction budget. Congress approved $1.375 billion for wall construction in this year's budget, same as the previous year.

The Pentagon has already provided $2.5 billion to the Department of Homeland Security to replace existing portions of wall along the 2,000 mile (3,200 km) southern US border, while no new wall has been erected.

With the US presidential election coming up next year, Trump has recently appeared sensitive to accusations that no new mileage of wall has been built yet.

Trump has made toughening immigration policies a central tenet of his presidency and has vowed to build a wall along the US-Mexico border to combat illegal immigration and drug trafficking.

The new funding was criticized by Democratic lawmakers, who say the Republican president is using immigration as a political stunt.

"It is a slap in the face to the members of the Armed Forces who serve our country that President Trump is willing to cannibalize already allocated military funding to boost his own ego and for a wall he promised Mexico would pay to build," said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

In a phone conversation, US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Esper that Trump was negating the constitutional principle of separation of powers.

“My view of it is that stealing money from military construction, at home and abroad, will undermine our national security, quality of life and morale of our troops, and that indeed makes America less safe,” Pelosi said.

US Senator Jack Reed, the senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called for Congress to oppose "misusing defense dollars in this manner."

"Clearly, this administration is trying to circumvent Congressional authority and this ill-advised attempt should be legally challenged and struck down by the courts," Reed said in a statement.

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