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US diverts 3.6 billion dollars into Mexico wall funding

Funds set aside for military construction projects will instead be spent on Donald Trump’s border barrier.

Defence Secretary Mark Esper has approved the use of the funds to build a further 175 miles of the wall (Christian Chavez/AP)
Defence Secretary Mark Esper has approved the use of the funds to build a further 175 miles of the wall (Christian Chavez/AP)

By Lolita C Baldor, Associated Press

US defence secretary Mark Esper has approved the use of 3.6 billion US dollars (£2.97 billion) in funding from military construction projects to build 175 miles of President Donald Trump’s wall along the Mexican border.

Pentagon officials would not say which 127 projects would be affected, but said details would be available on Wednesday after members of Congress were notified.

The officials said half the money would come from military projects in the US, the rest from projects in other countries.

Mr Esper’s decision fuels what has been a persistent controversy between the Trump administration and Congress over immigration policies and the funding of the wall.

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Workers break ground on new border wall construction about 20 miles west of Santa Teresa, New Mexico, last month (Cedar Attanasio/AP)

And it sets up a difficult debate for politicians who refused earlier this year to approve nearly 6 billion dollars (£4.95 billion) for the wall, but must now decide if they will refund the projects that are being used to provide the money.

Pentagon comptroller Elaine McCusker said the now-unfunded projects were not being cancelled, with the Pentagon instead saying the military projects were being “deferred”.

The Defence Department, however, has no guarantee from Congress that any of the money will be replaced, and a number of politicians made it clear during the debate earlier this year that they would not fall for budget trickery and sleight of hand to build the wall.

“It is a slap in the face to the members of the Armed Forces who serve our country that President Trump is willing to cannibalise 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, adding the funding shift would affect the US Military Academy at West Point.

It is a slap in the face to the members of the Armed Forces who serve our country Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer

Congress approved 1.375 billion dollars (£1.14 billion) for wall construction in this year’s budget, the same as the previous year and far less than the 5.7 billion dollars (£4.71 billion) that the White House sought.

Mr Trump grudgingly accepted the money to end a 35-day government shutdown in February but simultaneously declared a national emergency to take money from other government accounts, identifying up to 8.1 billion dollars (£6.69 billion) for wall construction.

The transferred funds include 600 million dollars (£495 million) from the Treasury Department’s asset forfeiture fund, 2.5 billion dollars (£2.06 billion) from Defence Department counter-drug activities and now the 3.6 billion dollar (£2.97 billion) pot for military housing construction announced on Tuesday.

The Pentagon reviewed the list of military projects and said none providing housing or critical infrastructure for troops would be affected. This follows recent scandals over poor living quarters for service members in several parts of the US.

Defence officials also said they would focus on projects set to begin in 2020 and beyond, with the hope that the money could eventually be restored by Congress.

PA

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