President Trump plans to divert an additional $7.2 billion in military funding for the construction of a wall on the southern border, according to two people familiar with the plans, as officials rush to show major progress on his signature campaign promise in time for the 2020 election.
The money would be stripped from Defense Department construction and counterdrug projects, the officials said, and amounts to even more than the billions the administration transferred from the Pentagon last year to pay for Mr. Trump’s border wall.
Congress allocated a fraction of that in December in the 2020 budget for border barrier construction — just $1.375 billion. But there were also no limitations placed on Mr. Trump’s ability to transfer funds from Pentagon accounts. The administration has now allocated more than $18 billion for Mr. Trump’s border wall.
The funding would allow the administration to complete more than 880 miles of border wall by 2022, the officials said. But Mr. Trump is still far behind on his promise to deliver 450 miles of wall by the end of this year. Just last Friday, the acting homeland security secretary celebrated the completion of 100 miles of border wall, much of it on land already owned by the federal government.
“The wall system you see behind me is an undeniable impediment to smugglers, traffickers and other criminals who have exploited our lack of effective border infrastructure to smuggle drugs, illicit goods and engage in human trafficking,” the acting secretary, Chad Wolf, said on Friday.
Mr. Trump’s pursuit of a border wall picked up momentum last Thursday when a federal appeals court allowed the administration to use $3.6 billion in military construction funds, a move that delayed or suspended 127 military projects. The ruling overturned a decision by an El Paso judge who had found that Mr. Trump’s emergency proclamation, which allowed him to obtain the military funds, was unlawful.
“Multiple courts have already ruled that President Trump has no authority to take billions from service members for his xenophobic wall,” said Dror Ladin, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project. “The A.C.L.U. won’t rest until the president’s illegal power grab is blocked once and for all.”
The plans to transfer more funds from the Pentagon, first reported by The Washington Post, reaffirm that Mr. Trump is likely to again center his campaign on the border wall, a project that was initially used as a mnemonic device to remind him to focus on immigration at 2016 presidential campaign rallies.
Mr. Trump faces other impediments for his construction, including an investigation into a $400 million contract for wall construction awarded to Fisher Sand & Gravel by the Office of Inspector General for the Defense Department. The company’s chief executive, Tommy Fisher, has repeatedly pushed for the wall on Fox News, the president’s favorite news channel, which has helped others win senior positions in the Department of Homeland Security.
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has taken a lead role in Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign and specifically the construction of the wall. Mr. Kushner has held meetings with military leaders to discuss moving money to Mr. Trump’s border wall.
But money is not the only obstacle: Even as the administration secures funding for the wall, the potential path of the project still runs through land the government does not own.
Mr. Trump has encouraged officials to use eminent domain powers to seize land from private landowners. But many owners of land in the wall’s path are fighting the federal government in court, a process that delayed previous administrations’ efforts to construct border barriers for years.