Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat, said the Trump administration was “stealing” military funding meant for Maryland projects after touring a congested thoroughfare in Fort Meade on Friday afternoon.
Congress appropriated $16 million to widen Cooper Avenue inside the military base from two to four lanes, but now the Trump administration is sending that money to expand a wall on the border with Mexico.
“These projects have a far bigger impact on the security of our nation and the quality of life enjoyed by our troops and their families than a boondoggle wall that Mexico was supposed to finance," Ruppersberger said.
The road construction is one of three military projects postponed in Maryland after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border in February. A child development center and hazardous cargo pad at Joint Base Andrews in Prince George’s County also will be deferred.
They are among $3.6 billion in military projects whose funding was diverted to the southern border so the president can fulfill his campaign promise of building a border wall.
When Trump declared his candidacy in June 2015, he said, “I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me —and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
Ruppersberger said he toured the southern border three months ago and spoke to people skeptical of the wall’s effectiveness.
“Trump’s own people say the wall just slows people down five to 10 minutes,” he said.
Ruppersberger, whose district includes Fort Meade, home to the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, said the border needs technology like cameras and a little more fencing, but not an expensive wall. He said dangerous people will find and have found ways around the wall.
“The cartels are building tunnels. That is where we need to focus," he said.
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Help also should go toward the countries immigrants are fleeing from to more effectively attack the root of the immigration problem, he said.
The wall is primarily for Trump’s “political image,” said Ruppersberger, who allocates money for military projects as a member of the House Appropriations’ Homeland Security subcommittee.
“It’s stealing from people on very serious missions,” he said. “Fort Meade deals with terrorism, Russia and China issues. It has extremely important missions. The NSA does as much to help our national security as any other agency.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper defended the spending on the wall, writing that the diversion will help fortify the southern border and enable troops to better curb illegal immigration.
“These projects will deter illegal entry, increase the vanishing time of those illegally crossing the border, and channel migrants to ports of entry,” Esper wrote in a letter first reported by the Daily Beast.
Fort Meade and its many agencies make up Maryland’s largest employer, and its roads have grown increasingly trafficked as the base has gone from 45,000 workers 10 years ago to about 56,0000 today. The base is expected to add another 10,000 employees over the next decade.
Mary Doyle, a spokeswoman for Fort Meade, said about 140,000 people — employees, family members, and others — drive through Fort Meade on a daily basis.