President Trump is still weighing whether to declare a national emergency to build a southern border wall. These emergency acts are more common than you might think — the United States is currently under 31 of them.

Most, though, are considerably less noticeable than a barrier between the United States and Mexico.

Nearly all national emergency declarations under the 1976 National Emergencies Act relate to sanctions or export restrictions, according to a list kept by the Brennan Center for Justice. Under that act, presidents must formally declare an emergency and offer a legal rationale to use emergency powers.

National emergencies by category

0

10

20

30

40

26 ongoing

Sanctions

43 total

1

Export limits

6 total

Weapons

proliferation

1

4 total

Other

reasons

3

5 total

0

10

20

30

40

26 ongoing

Sanctions

43 total

1

Export limits

6 total

Weapons

proliferation

1

4 total

Other

reasons

3

5 total

0

10

20

30

40

26 ongoing

Sanctions

43 total

1

Export limits

6 total

Weapons

proliferation

1

4 total

Other

reasons

3

5 total

0

10

20

30

40

26 ongoing

43 total

Sanctions

1

Export limits

6 total

Weapons

proliferation

1

4 total

Other

reasons

3

5 total

Source: Analysis of data from Brennan Center for Justice

Trump has already declared three emergencies — all relating to sanctions. One included a list of people “involved in serious human rights abuse or corruption.” Another imposed sanctions “in the event of foreign interference in a United States election.” The third was to block property “of certain persons contributing to the situation in Nicaragua.”

The 26 emergencies relating to sanctions are aimed at punishing entities such as foreign governments, terrorists, narcotics traffickers and cybercriminals. Many are continually redeclared upon expiration by different presidents.

Six emergency acts continued an expired law that authorized the Department of Commerce to regulate the export of goods for foreign policy and national security reasons. One is still in effect.

Four emergency acts dealt with the proliferation of weapons, including chemical, biological and other weapons of mass destruction. One is still in effect.

Five other emergency acts, like Trump’s proposed border emergency, do not fit neatly into these categories. Three of them are currently in effect.

Swine flu outbreak

Emergency declared by Barack Obama on Oct. 23, 2009

Issued because “given that the rapid increase in illness across the Nation may overburden health care resources … the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic in the United States constitutes a national emergency.”

Read the document

Sale of Iraq petroleum

Emergency declared by George W. Bush on May 22, 2003

Issued because “the threat of attachment or other judicial process against the Development Fund for Iraq, Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products … obstructs the orderly reconstruction of Iraq …”

Read the document

Sept. 11 terrorist attacks

Emergency declared by George W. Bush on Sept. 14, 2001

Issued “by reason of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, New York, New York, and the Pentagon, and the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States.”

Read the document

Rough diamonds from Sierra Leone

Emergency declared by Bill Clinton on Jan. 18, 2001

Issued because “the people of Sierra Leone have suffered the ravages of a brutal civil war for nearly 10 years, and that the United Nations Security Council … expressed concerns regarding the role played by the illicit trade in diamonds in fueling the conflict in Sierra Leone.”

Read the document

Vessel movement near Cuba

Emergency declared by Bill Clinton on March 1, 1996

Issued because “on February 24, 1996, Cuban military aircraft intercepted and destroyed two unarmed U.S.-registered civilian aircraft … [and] the entry of U.S.-registered vessels into Cuban territorial waters could again result in injury to, or loss of life …”

Read the document

Trump has said repeatedly that he has the power to declare the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border a national emergency, calling the law “100 percent on my side.” But with the number of apprehensions far down from 2000, he may have a difficult time making that justification politically.

Southern border apprehensions have fallen since 2000

Number of apprehensions between ports of entry, in fiscal years

2M

1.64M

1.5M

1M

500k

397K

0

1960

2000

2018

2M

1.64M

1.5M

1M

500k

397K

0

1960

2000

2018

2M

1.64M

1.5M

1M

500k

397K

0

1960

2000

2018

2M

1.64M

1.5M

1M

500k

397K

0

1960

2000

2018

Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Kevin Uhrmacher contributed to this report.

About this story

National emergencies data from the Brennan Center for Justice. Border apprehensions data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Promo image by Daniel Ochoa de Olza/AP.

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