United States House and Senate negotiators on Monday night agreed in principle to provide $1.375 billion (Dh5.05 billion) for fencing and other physical barriers at the Mexican border, part of a broader agreement that would stave off another partial government shutdown without funding President Donald Trump’s border wall.
The agreement would allow for 55 miles (88.5km) of new bollard fencing, with some restrictions on location based on community and environmental concerns, according to two congressional aides. That is a fraction of the more than 200 miles of steel-and-concrete wall that Trump demanded.
The deal, which must still pass the House and the Senate, and secure Trump’s signature, came together just before Trump, framed by banners emblazoned with “Finish the Wall” at an event in El Paso, Texas, doubled down on his demands. “We’re building the wall anyway,” he told the crowd, saying that aides had told him that the negotiators had made progress.
The funding for 55 miles of new fencing is a figure far lower than the $5.7 billion that Trump had demanded and marginally less than the $1.6 billion for 65 miles of pedestrian fencing in the bill that the Senate Appropriations Committee had passed last year.
In December, the president, concerned about reneging on his signature campaign promise, refused to sign onto that legislation, forcing the nation’s longest government shutdown. The negotiators also agreed to reduce the number of migrants and undocumented immigrants who can be held in detention. Democrats’ demand for a limit on how much detention space could be used for unauthorised immigrants arrested within the US had threatened to derail the negotiations over the weekend, but lawmakers agreed to waive the demand.
Instead, lawmakers agreed to adhere to levels, set by a number of detention beds, established in the previous budget. That would fund 40,520 beds, a decrease of about 17 per cent from current levels, which Immigration and Customs Enforcement reached in recent months only by surpassing its funding caps.
WHAT’S IN THE DEAL?
Beyond the border barriers, the agreement, which primarily funds the Department of Homeland Security, would provide $1.7 billion more for border security, including technology at ports of entry, more officers and humanitarian aid. The Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees announced the agreement, which includes seven unfinished spending bills, after three private meetings on Monday. Disaster relief for areas affected by storms and natural disasters last year will not be included.
It is expected to be finalised 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. “We think so,” Senator Richard C. Shelby (Republican from Alabama) and the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters when asked about the likelihood of the president’s signature. “We hope so.” “The spectre of another government shutdown this close, I thought tonight we didn’t want that to happen,” he added later.
Senator Mitch McConnell (Republican from Kentucky) and the Senate majority leader, had urged him to “get it done” in negotiations, Shelby said. Representative Nita M. Lowey (Democrat from New York) and the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said she had been in close communication with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and expected her support. “She has confidence that I made the right decision,” Lowey told reporters. White House officials did not respond to requests for comment about the terms of the agreement, and the president’s conservative allies on Monday were already denouncing the deal. Sean Hannity, a Fox News commentator and a confidant of the president’s, called it “a garbage compromise”.
“This is a poison pill that no administration, not this one, not the previous one, should ever accept,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Imagine the absurdity of this: House Democrats want to set a limit on how many criminal aliens our government can detain.”
— New York Times News Service