ACLU of Mass.: Does wall contract really exist?

Lawsuit seeks documents related to Trump tweet

ON THE DAY when President Donald Trump declared a domestic national emergency related to the border, two groups have filed a lawsuit related to his wall claims.

The ACLU of Massachusetts and attorneys at Todd & Weld LLP filed a complaint in US District Court in Boston against the Department of Homeland Security and US Customs and Border Protection claiming they have not been provided documents related to Trump’s wall policy initiatives.

The legal dispute centers on a Trump tweet in December, shortly after the partial government shutdown began, in which the president said he “just gave out a 115-mile-long contract for another large section of the Wall in Texas.”

The initial records request from the ACLU of Massachusetts on December 28, 2018, sought details about purchase orders, the terms of the contract, invoices, requests for proposals, and any studies on cost or environmental impact that were involved in Trump’s decision.

Homeland Security responded in mid-January saying the ACLU’s request was “too broad” and didn’t ask for specific records. The department then assigned Customs to respond to the organization’s query. “This seems to be tied to litigation, and unfortunately we can’t comment on pending litigation,” said Border Patrol spokesman Carlos Diaz.

Attorneys at the ACLU of Massachusetts say they have not received any requested documents from either agency.

The ACLU’s attorneys also asked the US Army Corps of Engineers for the contract referenced by Trump, since the agency is responsible for the federal construction contracts in areas along the US-Mexico border region.

Matthew Segal, the legal director for the ACLU of Massachusetts, said the Army Corps replied quickly saying they have no such records, “which suggests this tweet is a lie. We haven’t seen a similar response from DHS to just respond to our records request.”

The Army Corps of Engineers referred all questions to the Department of Justice, which did not comment.

Segal said Trump’s potentially false claim raises all sorts of legal issues. “Does this tweet reflect a willingness to bypass Congress? It should shed light on other claims Trump is using for emergency powers,” Segal said.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

The ACLU of Massachusetts said it is seeking documentation about the president’s contract reference, spelling out the cost of the project and any impacts to the communities and environment along the border. The organization is also seeking to confirm the contract actually exists.

On Thursday, Trump failed to secure sufficient funds from Congress to construct the proposed border wall. On Friday, he signed emergency order paperwork to secure federal funds to build the southern wall.

There are already large barriers along parts of the US-Mexico border, including walls, barbed wire, and chain-linked fences, restricting pedestrian and vehicle travel. Congress had previously appropriated more than $1.5 billion for construction and expansion of physical barriers along 124 miles of the border in California, Arizona, and Texas. About 31 miles of barriers have been completed so far.