California and 15 other states filed the lawsuit last month, challenging the use of presidential emergency powers to build a border wall. Now Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Wisconsin are joining in.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha said the president’s emergency declaration violated the constitutional power of Congress to control government funds. 

Explaining his decision to join the lawsuit, Neronha said, “Not only do I believe that the President exceeded his powers, but there’s a stake here for Rhode Island, which is both a legal stake and a practical stake.”

The emergency declaration would divert $8 billion to build a barrier on the US-Mexico border. $600 million of that would come from the Treasury department’s forfeiture account. That’s where the federal government puts money seized in some customs and tax fraud cases.

Local police departments who help with federal investigations are compensated through the fund. And, Neronha warned, police departments in the state could lose out if money was redirected towards a border wall.

“We want Rhode Island law enforcement agencies, and Rhode Island’s public to benefit from the money that Congress has allocated in this direction,” he commented.

Similar compensation funding has been used to shore up local police department pension funds in the past, he added.  

“That money, it’s been used to build a new tax and fire station in North Providence without costing the taxpayers any money. Right now we’re talking about the Treasury Forfeiture Fund, but down the road, whether it’s this president or another one, they could do the same thing, and that’s what worries me.”

According to Neronha, the Rhode Island State Police currently have 50 applications for compensation filed with the Treasury and Department of Justice Forfeiture Funds.