The Pentagon notified Congress that it has sanctioned the transfer of $1 billion to begin new wall construction along the US-Mexico border, drawing immediate objections from Democratic lawmakers. A Pentagon budget reprogramming notification sent to Capitol Hill on Monday night indicated that up to $1 billion will go toward building 57 miles of fencing, improving roads and other measures on the southern border, reports CNN.
The Department of Defence authorised the Army Corp of Engineers to begin planning and construction for the project on Monday night.
The department will direct the funds toward 18-foot-high fencing along the Yuma and El Paso sections of the border, according to a letter acting Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan sent to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
In February, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in order to funnel billions of dollars to wall construction. As part of his announcement, he directed the use of counter-drug funds to partially begin a new wall construction.
Under the national emergency, other funds can also be dedicated to building the wall and related infrastructure, including military construction funds.
Monday's announcement was just the first $1 billion the administration is making available for wall funding. The administration said previously it plans to shift an additional $1.5 billion at some point in the future.
These initial counter-drug funds will ultimately flow from the Department of Homeland Security to the Army Corps of Engineers to begin construction.
Senate Democrats immediately objected to the transfer of money to build fencing along the southern border to block drug smuggling, CNN reported.
Every Democratic senator on the Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittees on Defence and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies signed on to a letter written to Shanahan objecting to moving $1 billion in personnel funds to counter drug funds to go toward the wall.
The senators said the Pentagon did not seek permission before notifying the committee of the transfer.
"We strongly object to both the substance of the funding transfer, and to the Department implementing the transfer without seeking the approval of the congressional defence committees and in violation of provisions in the defence appropriation itself," the senators wrote.
"As a result, we have serious concerns that the Department has allowed political interference and pet projects to come ahead of many near-term, critical readiness issues facing our military."