In declaring a national emergency at the southern border, President Trump has one overarching problem: There is no emergency, or crisis. As the fact checkers and analysts have noted repeatedly, the number of apprehensions in those areas between the legal ports of entry has declined sharply, from more than 1.6 million in 2000 to below 400,000 today.

Recall the recent Worldwide Threat Assessment released by the intelligence agencies in late January. They discussed cyberthreats, China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, even climate change. They said little about illegal immigration at the southern border.

That exercise in priority-setting echoes what is evident on the ground. The number of illegal immigrants has dropped since 2007, from roughly 12.2 million to 10.7 million now, in part, due to years of improved border security, especially in adding technology and personnel. The estimate is that two-thirds of the undocumented have been here for more than a decade, and the far greater share entered legally and then overstayed their visas.

If there has been an uptick in activity at the border, it stems from asylum-seekers, often fleeing lives of fear in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. By law and treaty, this country has an obligation to hear and assess their requests.

The president contends the emergency declaration opens the door to redirecting as much as $8 billion in defense spending to construct portions of his promised border wall. Put aside the many flaws in the wall concept, for instance, illegal drug traffic mostly entering through legal ports of entry, including 90 percent of the heroin seized, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The problem with the proposed redeployment in funds is the departure from what Congress intended in giving the president emergency authority.

The White House cites the 58 times previous presidents have acted under the National Emergencies Act of 1976. The majority of those actions have involved such things as imposing sanctions on foreign officials or foreign organizations, as Charlie Savage of the New York Times explained over the weekend. The idea behind the law is giving the president the power to act quickly, recognizing that in many cases Congress is not in position to match such speed.

That isn’t the situation now. Congress has taken up the subject, deliberated and acted. Bipartisan majorities agreed to spend $1.375 billion on border security in this fiscal year, including some fencing and barriers. The president wants more, and thus he is seeking to circumvent no less than the legislative power of the purse. The administration points to language in the law permitting the president to redirect military construction funds. Yet this provision applies in a declared emergency “that requires the use of the armed forces,” or something different than the current circumstances.

California and other states are moving to challenge the president’s action in court. The hope is that Congress, Democrats and Republicans, will defend vigorously legislative authority from what is an extraordinary power grab.

There is another aspect that reinforces how this drama is more about political positioning than an authentic emergency. According to news accounts, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, long advised the president against an emergency declaration. Then, McConnell struck a deal. If the president would sign the spending bill avoiding another government shutdown, McConnell would back the emergency. So the senator solved one problem thinking he had more time to address the other.

Then there are the president’s revealing words on Friday, “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.” That suggests something other than an emergency. It sounds like a president hurrying to keep a campaign promise.