- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The four-star Air Force general in charge of the defense of the U.S. homeland told lawmakers Tuesday the influx of illegal immigrants and illicit narcotics across the southern border does not constitute a national emergency, despite claims by the White House otherwise.

In written testimony submitted to Senate Armed Services Committee members, Northern Command chief Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy noted that the situation on the U.S.-Mexico border did not rise to the level of a military threat.

The four-star general’s remarks come as the Pentagon is poised to send hundreds more American troops to the southern border after the Trump administration declared the situation a national emergency. The current 5,000-troop force will expand to roughly 6,000 by March, the Defense Department confirmed last week.

Those troops will continue to provide air support to Customs and Border Patrol officers and Homeland Security agents carrying out border security operations. In addition, those forces have been tasked with securing hundreds of miles of territory along the border between major points of entry into the U.S.

Virginia Democrat and former vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine highlighted the general’s testimony during a terse exchange, warning Republicans that a future Democratic president might use the same argument Mr. Trump is using now to declare a national emergency on guns.

While testifying during the hearing, Gen. O’Shaughnessy said, “I did not directly recommend either way” whether the White House should declare a national emergency in order to access Pentagon dollars to help finance border wall construction.

But the general made clear to the committee that he and his staff were fully consulted throughout the administration’s decision-making process — and he stressed to lawmakers that it’s not his place to determine the administration’s priorities.

“I get my orders from the secretary of defense and the president. Those orders are very clear to me,” he said.

Earlier this month, Gen. Joseph Votel — who heads U.S. Central Command — caused a stir on Capitol Hill when he said he was out of the loop on the White House decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria.

Mr. Trump said he will draw $3.6 billion from Pentagon accounts — which requires a national emergency declaration — on top of the $6.5 billion in unspent federal funds to pay for the wall.

The White House is also moving $2.5 billion from military counter-narcotics programs, and $600 million from a Treasury Department forfeiture program that collects money from drug lords and other criminals.

California Democrat Rep. John Garamendi has openly questioned the constitutionality of the administration’s moves. “There’s a major issue that the president is usurping the authority of Congress [and] he’s using this phony emergency to take money that Congress has refused to appropriate” for the border wall, he told The Washington Times.

Amid the debate in Washington, U.S. troops are in the midst of stringing an additional 140 miles of border area with concertina wire, along with other areas that have already been fortified during previous troop deployments to the border.

That work, which the Pentagon says is 30 percent complete, will be coupled with a new “ground-based detection and monitoring mission” to be conducted by American military units.

Using American service members to conduct border patrols on the ground, along with other means of military support, is “freeing up [border] agents for a more law enforcement role,” a Defense Department official told reporters last week.

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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