Congressional lawmakers reach deal on US-Mexico border wall funding
Congressional negotiators have reached an agreement to prevent a government shutdown and finance construction of new barriers along the US-Mexico border, overcoming a late-stage hang-up over immigration enforcement issues that had threatened to scuttle the talks. Republicans tentatively agreed yesterday night on $1.4 billion, far less money for US President Donald Trump's border wall than the White House's $5.7 billion wish list. Details here.
The agreement means 55 miles of new fencing, constructed through existing designs such as metal slats instead of a concrete wall, but far less than the 215 miles the White House demanded in December. "We reached an agreement in principle," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) appearing with a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers who concurred.
The fencing would be built in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. "Our staffs are just working out the details," said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N Y. Details won't be officially released until today. The pact alleviates any threat of a second partial government shutdown this weekend. Aides revealed the details under condition of anonymity because the agreement is tentative.
The agreement also includes increases for new technologies such as advanced screening at border entry-point, humanitarian aid sought by Democrats, and additional customs officers. This weekend, Shelby pulled the plug on the talks over Democratic demands to limit immigrant detentions by federal authorities, frustrating some of his fellow negotiators, but Democrats yielded ground on that issue in a fresh round of talks yesterday.
Asked if Trump would back the deal, Shelby said, "We believe from our dealings with them and the latitude they've given us, they will support it. We certainly hope so." The debate over border funding got the most attention, but it's just part of a major spending measure to fund a bevy of Cabinet departments. Also, Republicans were desperate to avoid another bruising shutdown.
A collapse of the negotiations would have imperiled another upcoming round of budget talks that are required to prevent steep spending cuts to the Pentagon and domestic agencies. Trump travelled to El Paso, Texas, for a campaign-style rally yesterday night focused on immigration and border issues. He has been adamant that Congress approve money for a wall along the Mexican border.
While Trump demands approval for the border from Congress, he no longer repeats his 2016 mantra that Mexico will pay for it. Democrats carried more leverage into the talks after besting Trump on the 35-day shutdown but showed flexibility in hopes on winning Trump's signature.
Democrats also focused on reducing funding for detention beds to curb what they see as unnecessarily harsh enforcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The agreement yielded curbed funding, overall, for ICE detention beds, which Democrats promised would mean the agency would hold fewer detainees than the current average of 49,000 detainees held each day. The bed will be ratcheted down to 40,520.