Trump says will sign 'emergency' to build border wall

Trump says will sign 'emergency' to build border wall

US President Donald Trump declares a national emergency at the US-Mexico border while speaking about border security in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Friday. (REUTERS)

President Donald Trump announced on Friday that he will declare a national emergency in order to build a wall on the US-Mexico border without funding from Congress, a rare step immediately slammed by Democrats as an unlawful "power grab."

The extraordinary declaration frees Trump to seek to redirect billions of dollars of federal funds to stop what he called an "invasion" of drugs, gangs, human traffickers and undocumented migrants across the southern US border.

"I'm going to be signing a national emergency... Everyone knows that walls work," the president told reporters at the White House.

Trump made the declaration after agreeing to a spending measure that will keep federal agencies operational through September 30 -- a relief for lawmakers who had fretted about the possibility of a second crippling government shutdown.

But the measure falls wells short of the $5.7 billion that Trump has been demanding for a wall on the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) southern border, and the emergency declaration would help him bypass Congress and get the money that lawmakers refused to give him.

"What we really want to do is simple... We want to stop drugs from coming into our country. We want to stop criminals and gangs from coming into our country," Trump said.

The emergency declaration enables the activation of any of hundreds of dormant powers, which can permit the White House to declare martial law, suspend civil liberties, expand the military, seize property and restrict trade, communications and financial transactions.

Article 1 of the US Constitution states Congress gets to decide how money is appropriated and Trump's plan to use emergency powers to circumvent congressional opposition to the wall has alarmed US lawmakers, including in his Republican Party, who warn that the move would set a dangerous precedent.

Democrats have signalled that the move would open the door to future presidents declaring emergencies on various topics, from gun violence to climate change to the opioid crisis.

"The President's unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist does great violence to our Constitution and makes America less safe, stealing from urgently needed defence funds for the security of our military and our nation," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.

"This is plainly a power grab by a disappointed President, who has gone outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process."

Members of Pelosi's caucus were "reviewing our options" about how to respond to Trump's move, she told reporters Thursday.

Trump said he fully expected his move to be challenged in court -- and indeed within minutes the New York state Attorney General Letitia James vowed to "fight back with every legal tool at our disposal."

But the president also voiced confidence that he would prevail in any legal challenge.

"I expect to be sued," he said at the White House. "Sadly it will go through a process and happily, we'll win. I think," he said. "I think that we will be very successful in court."