A group of 58 former U.S. national security officials, both Republicans and Democrats, contended Monday that President Donald Trump had "no factual basis" to declare a national emergency to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to thwart illegal immigration.
“Under no plausible assessment of the evidence is there a national emergency today that entitles the president to tap into funds appropriated for other purposes to build a wall at the southern border,” the group said.
The officials who signed the statement included former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and John Kerry, along with former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, former national security adviser Susan Rice, former United Nations Ambassador Thomas Pickering, former Defense chief and Central Intelligence Agency director Leon Panetta and former State Department counselor Eliot Cohen.
Trump declared the emergency 10 days ago to circumvent congressional refusal to give him the $5.7 billion he wanted to build the border wall he says is necessary to block illegal migrants and criminals from entering the United States and to interdict drug shipments. Congress approved $1.375 billion for border barriers, but none for a wall.
WATCH: Under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, a U.S. president has broad power to declare a national emergency. But what does that mean?
Trump did not respond directly to the statement by the former security officials, but defended his plans for a wall at a White House meeting with the country's state governors.
“You take a look at Tijuana, Mexico," Trump said. "Thousands and thousands of people are sitting there trying to get into our country. And if we didn’t have that wall there that we’ve totally renovated and fixed, if we didn’t have that wall, it would be impossible even for the military to stop them."
He added, “It’s incredible, what that wall has done. And that’s not even the upper, you know, the best of our walls. We have a great system now. We have a prototype. We expect to have 250 to 300 miles of wall built in the very near future. It’s actually a beautiful wall, it’s a beautiful looking—actually, you know, I’ve always said part of the wall was that previous administrations when they did little walls, they built them so badly. So badly, so unattractive. So—I wouldn’t want them in my backyard."
"And the new one is incredible looking," he concluded. "It’s a piece of art, in a sense. And by the way, it’s more effective. It’s more effective.”
But the former security officials said that contrary to Trump's claim, there is no emergency at the border, noting that illegal border crossings are at nearly 40-year lows. They also said there is no drug trafficking emergency at the border since "the overwhelming majority of opioids" enter the country through legal ports of entry, a contention supported by government statistics but one that Trump disputes.
Trump plans to tap about $8 billion in government funds already earmarked for other projects to build the wall, including some designated for the Defense Department. But the former security officials claimed that redirecting the money "will undermine U.S. national security and foreign policy interests."
The officials' statement comes a day before the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is likely to reject Trump's national emergency declaration. A majority of House members has signed on to the resolution opposing Trump's action.
The measure would then head to the Senate, where Republicans hold a 53-47 majority, although several Republican lawmakers have voiced opposition to the emergency declaration. Whether they eventually will join Democrats in voting to oppose Trump's action is uncertain.
Trump has started lobbying fellow Republicans to stand with him in support of the emergency declaration.
"I hope our great Republican Senators don’t get led down the path of weak and ineffective Border Security," he said on Twitter. "Without strong Borders, we don’t have a Country - and the voters are on board with us. Be strong and smart, don’t fall into the Democrats 'trap' of Open Borders and Crime!"
I hope our great Republican Senators don’t get led down the path of weak and ineffective Border Security. Without strong Borders, we don’t have a Country - and the voters are on board with us. Be strong and smart, don’t fall into the Democrats “trap” of Open Borders and Crime!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 25, 2019
Sixteen states and other groups have sued to block the emergency declaration, but court hearings on the dispute have yet to held.