Apr 15, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Congressional Democrats seek border wall halt during coronavirus

Workers drop pieces of border wall into place in New Mexico. Photo: Jordyn Rozensky, Justin Hamel/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A group of 91 Democratic lawmakers is calling on the Trump administration to halt border wall construction during the coronavirus pandemic.

Driving the news: The lawmakers, led by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), are making their case in letters being sent today to agency heads at the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Justice and Defense.

The big picture: COVID-19 has appeared in immigrant detention centers, denied entry to thousands of migrants, delayed immigrant hearings and reportedly infected nearly 900 DHS employees.

Details: A total of 66 House members and 25 senators signed the letters — including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, six former presidential candidates in the Senate, House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler and three members of "the squad."

  • Signatures include those of several Democrats representing border districts: Reps. Cuellar, Ann Kirkpatrick, Veronica Escobar, and Vicente Gonzalez.
  • Several immigrants rights organizations also endorsed the letters.

What they're saying: Wall construction "defies" CDC social distancing and quarantine policies while money being used on the "ineffective and wasteful border wall" should be invested in fighting the virus, lawmakers wrote.

  • "It's insulting that in the middle of this emergency, instead of having the focus on making sure we got supplies, making sure that we're beating all of this, they're still going with this wall — this campaign promise from the president," Cuellar told Axios.
  • "The last thing we need is to put workers and the surrounding communities at risk when they already lack the health care infrastructure to handle this public health crisis," Heinrich told Axios in a statement.

By the numbers: The Trump administration has allocated $1.375 billion to build roughly 69 miles of border wall in fiscal year 2020, according to CBP's latest border wall data.

  • Since January 2017, the administration has built 158 miles of border wall, mostly replacing dilapidated or outdated barriers with taller, more effective fencing.

Read the letter here.

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

Health experts fear that the protests breaking out across the U.S. could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.

The state of play: Being outside may limit the danger, but close quarters, yelling, and potential exposure to tear gas, which causes coughing and crying, increase the risk of spread. It's recommended that those who are protesting be tested for the coronavirus.

New York City to impose curfew amid ongoing protests

Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York City will be placed under curfew on Monday from 11pm until 5am Tuesday morning following days of protests over the death of George Floyd, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.

The state of play: The decision was a result of conversations with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Police Department commissioner Dermot Shea. Cuomo said the number of police officers on the street will double from 4,000 to 8,000.

Family-commissioned autopsy says George Floyd's death was homicide

Police watch as demonstrators block a roadway while protesting the death of George Floyd in Miami. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Preliminary results from an independent autopsy commissioned by George Floyd's family found that his death in the custody of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was "homicide caused by asphyxia due to neck and back compression that led to a lack of blood flow to the brain," according to a statement from the family's attorney.

Why it matters: The autopsy contradicts preliminary findings from the Hennepin County medical examiner, who found “no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxiation or strangulation,” according to charging documents against Chauvin. The official examination is still ongoing.