The Pentagon has authorised army engineers to begin construction of additional fencing on the US-Mexico border, diverting an initial $1bn after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to bypass Congress on the matter.
The army would begin planning and building 57 miles of 18-foot-high fencing in Yuma, Arizona, and El Paso, Texas, according to a statement by acting defence secretary Patrick Shanahan.
Mr Trump declared the emergency on 15 February after Congress refused his request for $5.7bn (£4.4bn). The emergency allows him to divert up to $3.6bn (£2.75bn) from other military construction projects.
The Pentagon said the money would support the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection. The funding would also go towards installing lighting and constructing roads.
Mr Shanahan said the engineers’ focus would be on blocking “drug-smuggling corridors”.
In a letter to Mr Shanahan, Democrat senators complained that the Pentagon had not brought the funding request to the appropriate congressional committees, according to CNN.
“We strongly object to both the substance of the funding transfer, and to the department implementing the transfer without seeking the approval of the congressional defence committees and in violation of provisions in the defence appropriation itself,” the letter read.
Building the wall was one of Mr Trump’s most prominent campaign promises, though he claimed the money would come from Mexico, not American taxpayers.
It comes as a vote was scheduled for Tuesday in the House of Representatives which will likely uphold Mr Trump’s declaration of emergency, in spite of the objections of the majority of congressmen and women.
With the unanimous support of Democrats and some Republicans, a resolutions was passed by Congress which struck down the emergency – but was vetoed by the president.
To override a presidential veto, the House would require a super-majority of two thirds, something it is expected to fall well short of in a vote on Tuesday.
“The president will be fine in the House,” said minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, adding: “The veto will not be overridden.”
Democrats are hoping to use the border emergency battle in upcoming campaigns, both to symbolise Trump’s harsh immigration stance and claim he is hurting congressional districts around the country.
Last week the Pentagon sent congressional leaders a list of hundreds of military construction projects that might be cut to pay for barrier work.
Though the list was tentative, Democrats were asserting that Republican politicians were endangering local bases to pay for the wall.