Shared from the 2/12/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Lawmakers reach deal to prevent shutdown

‘Agreement in principle’ includes fewer funds for Trump’s border wall

WASHINGTON — House and Senate negotiators on Monday night agreed “in principle” to provide $1.375 billion for physical barriers at the southwestern border, according to two congressional aides. It is a figure far lower than the $5.7 billion that President Donald Trump had demanded for a border wall.

The deal, which would stave off another partial government shutdown at midnight Friday, appears to be a significant victory for Democrats. It came together just before Trump was about to begin a campaign and “Finish the Wall” rally in El Paso. It still must pass the House and Senate, and secure Trump’s signature.

The negotiators also agreed to reduce the number of migrants and immigrants without legal authorization who can be held in detention.

It would allow for 55 miles of new bollard fencing, with some restrictions on location based on community and environmental concerns, according to the two aides, who requested anonymity to disclose details of the negotiations. That is a fraction of the hundreds of miles of steel-and-concrete wall that the president shut down the government over in December.

Democrats’ demand for a limit on how much detention space could be used for unauthorized immigrants arrested within the U.S. had threatened to derail the negotiations over the weekend, but lawmakers agreed to waive the demand.

Lawmakers announced they had reached the agreement after three private meetings Monday. It is expected to be finalized as early as Tuesday, well before the Friday deadline when funding would again lapse for a number of federal agencies. With fears of another damaging shutdown, lawmakers seemed confident that they had the support of party leadership and that Trump would be willing to sign the agreement.

A specific point of contention had been the number of detention beds under the control of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Aides in both parties had warned that a final deal might leave the number of detention slots — or “interior beds” — unchanged, not reduced as Democrats want.

House Democrats, urged on by immigration rights groups, have pushed hard, hoping to leverage White House fears of another damaging shutdown into a softening of the president’s hard-line immigration policies that they say have torn apart families.

The Democrats’ tool: limit the number of beds that ICE has to hold immigrants without legal authorization in custody to 16,500 from around 20,700.

The Democrats’ goal is to cut the number of detention beds, including those occupied by asylum-seekers and people caught at the border, from its current level of around 49,000 to 34,000, the number funded during the Obama administration, Democratic aides said. That, they say, would end sweeps and roundups, and force ICE to focus on pursuing hardened criminals.

With their number, Democrats said they could seize the initiative on immigration from a president who has staked his political fortunes on the issue.

“We started at zero on the wall, and we compromised a lot after that, and we are now asking them to change, too,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., a member of the 17-member House and Senate conference committee.

Trump was catching on. When Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Appropriations Committee, presented him with the Democrats’ demand, he rejected it quickly, according to two people briefed on the exchange.

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