Episcopal dioceses, organizations join lawsuit against Trump’s border wall

By Egan Millard
Posted Aug 27, 2019

[Episcopal News Service] The dioceses of Long Island and Western Massachusetts, as well as Trinity Church Wall Street and Boston-based Episcopal City Mission, have joined a lawsuit that seeks to stop President Donald Trump from redirecting federal funds to build a wall on the United States’ southern border.

They and 71 other religious organizations, led by the Muslim Bar Association of New York, entered an amici curiae (or “friends of the court”) brief dated Aug. 22 in support of the lawsuit, which was filed in February by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition. The suit challenges Trump’s use of emergency powers to divert funds marked for other purposes to construct a border wall after Congress refused to appropriate $5.7 billion for it. The emergency powers that Trump invoked only apply to military construction projects that are necessary to support the armed forces, the Sierra Club says.

The amici brief expresses the religious groups’ concern that Trump’s use of emergency powers to access funds without congressional approval sets a dangerous precedent.

“President Trump’s effort to build a wall is targeted at a specific disfavored group, namely immigrants entering the United States through the southern border. But the risks of an unchecked executive with access to unlimited funds to implement its agenda are shared by all potentially-disfavored groups. … All amici are justly concerned that the president will, if permitted, use his newfound power to re-direct appropriations to impinge on the rights of religious minorities,” the brief says.

The bishops of Long Island and Western Massachusetts expressed their views on Trump’s actions in brief statements of interest.

“The Bishop of the Diocese fully supports this effort for a permanent injunction to stop the administration (federal government) from mis-directing and illegally using Defense Department and Treasury funds to construct an immoral, impractical and useless border wall,” the statement from the Diocese of Long Island says. “The administration’s fixation with constructing this wall is representative of the administration’s sinful and unlawful scapegoating of asylum seekers to promote an un-American, protectionist, nationalist agenda. It must not be allowed to happen.”

The Rt. Rev. Douglas Fisher, bishop of Western Massachusetts, also combined concerns about the legality of Trump’s emergency declaration and the morality of his administration’s treatment of immigrants in his statement.

“The president’s use of government funds for building the southern border wall is a clear violation of the Congress’ power of the purse. The situation at our southern border may quite rightly be seen as a crisis as the president’s policy shifts have stranded asylum seekers in Mexico for an indeterminate time. The impact of his change to national policy has endangered the lives of people who seek safety here. What has been done to the children under orders from the President, is immoral and an affront to human dignity,” Fisher wrote on behalf of his diocese.

Two other Episcopal organizations known for their public advocacy also signed onto the brief.

“President Trump’s decision to build a wall with government funding targets those people with whom we are most called to demonstrate solidarity,” Episcopal City Mission, which facilitates action on various social justice issues in Massachusetts, wrote in its statement.

Trinity Church Wall Street, in addition to outlining its opposition to Trump’s emergency declaration, listed the actions it has taken to support immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, including organizing trips to the border, convening a conference about migration, advocating for detention center reform, supporting individual asylum-seekers and participating in rallies and vigils, such as an overnight “tent city” in Trinity’s churchyard.

The other 71 organizations who signed the brief represented Jews, Muslims and Christians of many denominations, as well as Unitarian Universalists and interfaith groups.

In July, the Supreme Court ruled that construction of the border wall could begin as litigation continued. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 60 miles of the wall have been completed as of Aug. 24, 13 percent of what Trump promised to build by the end of 2020. However, Axios reported that all the new construction merely replaced pre-existing walls and fences.

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.