President Trump has repeatedly threatened to declare a state of national emergency in order to grant himself the authority to begin construction of a southern border wall, which he has long promised his supporters. Amid a government shutdown that is now in its third week, Trump is set to make an announcement on Tuesday evening about “border security,” raising alarm that the president will invoke a national emergency as soon as today in order to fund construction of the wall. Though Trump is not expected to make good on his threats this time, it remains a possibility for the future.

Trump would not be the first president to declare a national emergency to push an agenda forward. The United States has been operating under several states of national emergency for decades. After 9/11, President George W. Bush declared a number of national emergencies to ratchet up state surveillance and prepare the US to invade Iraq, which account for just some of the 31 emergencies dating back to the Carter administration that are still under effect.

While national emergencies are nothing new, many fear that Trump’s impulsive and arguably authoritarian tendencies mean he could go even further than his predecessors in using the powers afforded to the president when a national state of emergency is in place.

So far, Trump has said that he wants to use a state of emergency to bypass Congress and secure billions in funding for his southern border wall project. If he does so, Trump will be legally required to stipulate his action plan for the state of emergency, but the major caveat is that these plans can be amended later on. The president also has the power to renew a state of emergency every year, leaving the possibility that a new state of emergency could last at least through Trump’s time in office if not longer, as has been the case with national emergencies put into effect by past presidents.

This isn’t to say that the president’s power would go unchecked. Congress passed the National Emergencies Act in 1976, which dictates a series of provisions to keep states of emergency under check, including congressional check-ins every six months while an emergency is in effect in order to to discuss whether the emergency is still needed and vote to terminate, if necessary. (Though it’s worth mentioning that, in the 40+ years that this law has been in place, Congress has never followed through on holding even one such check-in.)

What all of this means is that, while Trump has so far alluded to using national emergency powers to force construction for a southern border wall, he could easily (and legally) take additional measures. In a recent Atlantic article outlining the vast powers a president can wield if a national emergency is declared, writer Elizabeth Goitein, who is a co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, warns that these powers are “ripe for abuse” by Trump, who has consistently sought to buck democratic norms during his time in office.

Compounding the potential severity of this situation is the way that the president has so far been justifying the possible declaration of a national emergency in order to build his border wall. As he has from the start of his campaign, Trump has spent recent months and weeks repeating a steady drumbeat of lies about migrants and asylum-seekers attempting to come to the US via Mexico. Trump and other members of his administration have consistently repeated racist and untrue claims that Central American migrants pose a security risk to the US, when there is no indication that this is the case.

There is, however, an actual humanitarian crisis at the southern border that pre-dates Trump, and that his administration has badly worsened.

While Trump and top cabinet members falsely insist that people escaping violence and poverty in Central America are a danger to the US, the US has been putting migrants in grave peril, leading to the deaths of two Guatemalan children who were in Customs and Border Patrol custody in December. Tens of thousands of migrants are languishing in putrid detention centers with little or no access to legal or medical aid, only law enforcement agents who are frequently accused of neglect and abuse. Thousands of children were forcibly separated from their parents at the border under the “zero tolerance” policy. Meanwhile, thousands of people who either want to migrate to or seek asylum in the US are stuck waiting it out in massive camps near the border.

Trump is scheduled to address the country regarding the so-called national security crisis at the border on Tuesday evening, after which it will be somewhat more clear what the country’s immediate future looks like. If Trump declares a state of emergency, it’s high time to be on alert for additional power grabs he may soon make in order to force his agenda.

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