President Donald Trump, despite his empty claims that he’s the most pro-military president “ever,” is preparing to drain funds from schools and day care centers that serve military families, as well as stalling readiness projects, to pay for his promised border wall.
The Pentagon is diverting billions of dollars from already funded projects at military bases around the world in order to rush fence construction along the U.S.-Mexico border, Defense Department (DOD) officials announced Wednesday.
The department indicated the shunting of money away from military child care offerings was not DOD’s idea. “A Pentagon official said in a briefing that the department was given a ‘lawful order’ by Trump to divert the funds,” Reuters reported Wednesday.
The department also stressed that the day care and other projects being defunded were scheduled to break ground next fiscal year, suggesting that they are not stopping work on active construction to yank money to the border.
The delayed projects related to quality-of-life for families on bases include a new elementary school tied to a U.S. military facility in Germany, a day care center at the Maryland base where the primary crews responsible for servicing and operating Air Force One are stationed, and a new fire station at a Marine Corps facility in South Carolina. Housing construction for troops and families on bases is being held harmless in the fund diversion, the Pentagon said.
The department has also deferred various projects tied to training and readiness for troops themselves, according to the New York Times. A pistol range in Oklahoma, a cyber-defense facility in Virginia, various unspecified flight simulators, scheduled repairs at ports, and firing range facilities will all be mothballed to build the fencing, according to the Times.
A total of $3.6 billion in already-appropriated DOD funds is being shifted to Trump’s fencing projects, according to a department letter reported Tuesday by The Daily Beast. The word “wall” appears zero times in the letter, the site noted, but it lists locations and structural details for 140 total miles of new fence. Much of that length will replace or augment existing structures.
More than a third of the total cost and mileage goes to the 52 miles of Rio Grande riverfront stretching north from Laredo, Texas. The bulk of the other projects, however, either replace existing pedestrian and vehicle barriers with newer versions, or add additional layers to existing fence lines.
Much of the U.S.-Mexico border is already fenced from previous administrations’ own lower-profile efforts at enhancing security. Those projects have left scars in border communities, where property owners subjected to eminent domain frequently received low-ball compensation offers and misleading pitches about how the new barriers would affect their ability to utilize the land they still own after the feds are done building.
Lawsuits and massive settlements followed those prior waves of construction, adding to the up-front cost of the projects. The big takeaway from government reviews of what had gone wrong was that rushing into these sorts of projects creates preventable waste and generates violations of landowners’ rights.
When the people done wrong by hurried government appraisers and lawyers are rich, they can afford to sue and hold out for something approximating just compensation. It’s the little guys — families living on modest tracts, and medium-large ranching and agricultural operations that look rich on paper but actually trade in razor-fine profit margins — who end up screwed for good.
Part of the problem for such people, as South Texas locals told ThinkProgress in the spring, is that the engineers who design the fences often don’t want to cling tightly to the river itself.
Norie Garza has been building a small vacation home on seven riverfront acres for most of the past decade. In 2018, the feds showed up to let her know that new fencing would be coming in behind her land. The engineers were sympathetic, she said, but still shoved legal papers on her.
“Basically you sign it or you spend thousands of dollars [fighting] and at the end of the day you still have to allow them to come in,” she said.
Sugarcane farmer and rancher Sam Sparks III broadly supports the idea of cracking down on drug traffickers in his area, but said the idea you can both secure those areas and keep them productive for the families who’ve invested years of sweat and millions of dollars into them is a fiction.
The engineers offer to put in security gates and distribute passcodes so people like Sparks — who had about half his family’s 2,000-acre holdings cut off by fencing — can prevent their southern acreage turning fallow. But that’s no solution.
“[Traffickers] are gonna target those people that have that code, without a doubt,” Sparks said. Even if he were the type to arm himself and keep working acreage the fencing might isolate, he said, he’d never be able to hire workers to do it with him.
“When you stretch a wall across that property, then for sure nobody will want to work down there in that 900 acres, because then you’re trapped. If you get in danger, there’s no getting away,” he said. “We need the protection. We’ve gotta stop this, because it’s gotten out of hand. But at the same time, what are we willing to sacrifice in the name of doing so?”
This article was originally published at Think Progress on September 5, 2019. Reprinted with permission.