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President Donald Trump is considering plans to divert disaster relief funds from storm-ravaged Puerto Rico and a California still reeling from record-breaking fires to help build his barrier along the southern U.S. border, according to recent reports.
According to three U.S. officials, Trump was briefed on the possible option during his Thursday flight to the southern border region, where he hopes to build 315 miles of wall (or “steel slats”) to fulfill his flagship campaign promise.
If the president declares a national emergency, he would allegedly be able to take the funds, which have not been issued to California and the U.S. colonial territory of Puerto Rico, and use them to fund the wall.
The plan could prove more costly than the original $5.7 billion plan that Trump requested from Congress and would cover more than the 234 miles requested under that proposal. The plan would also see $2.4 billion allocated to improve needed flood prevention infrastructure in California and $2.5 billion allocated toward Hurricane Maria recovery efforts redirected toward his wall.
Puerto Rican officials were stunned by the possibility that Trump would siphon emergency funds from the island, and accused the president of cynically using the suffering of the island nation for political ends.
In a statement, right-of-center Congress member Jenniffer González Colón rebuked the president for gambling on Puerto Ricans’ “pain and hopes” and blasted the possibility that the president would resolve the southern border “crisis” by “removing money approved for disaster mitigation in Puerto Rico at the cost of American citizens who are the poorest, treated with total inequality.”
Residents of the U.S. colonial territory described the potential move as “barbarous,” tellingNBC News that they are still deprived of basic access to clean water, a phone connection and secure neighborhoods.
“We almost have no lighting in our public roads, risking accidents … The infrastructure in general is still very weak — many streets in our neighborhood collapsed and they’re still like that,” resident Tati Morales said.
On Thursday, the former reality television star defended his “absolute right to declare a national emergency” over what he has insisted is a “growing humanitarian crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The president’s claims have been repeatedly contradicted by legal advocates and civil liberties defenders, with many noting that the government has intentionally mislabeled young migrants and asylum-seekers as gang members using unsubstantiated and false claims.
The administration has also fumbled in recent days over its false claims that thousands of alleged “terrorists” have attempted to cross the southern frontier, with Justice Department officials confirming that “no immigrant has been arrested at the southwest border on terrorism charges in recent years.”