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Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump takes border wall case to El Paso rally as lawmakers reach deal to avoid new shutdown

  • Negotiators reached a deal to avoid another shutdown, but it falls short of meeting the president’s US$5.7 billion border wall funds demand
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 February, 2019, 10:24am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 February, 2019, 8:55pm

Congressional negotiators reached a deal to prevent a government shutdown and finance the building of new barriers along the US-Mexico border, overcoming late immigration enforcement issues that threatened to scuttle the talks.

Republicans tentatively agreed on Monday night to far less money for President Donald Trump’s border wall than the White House’s US$5.7 billion demand, settling for nearly US$1.4 billion, according to congressional aides.

The agreement means 88km (55 miles) of new fencing – existing designs such as metal slats and not a concrete wall – but far less than the 346km (215 miles) the White House demanded in December. The fencing would be built in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

“With the government being shut down, the spectre of another shutdown this close, what brought us back together I thought … was we didn’t want that to happen,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican.

The deal came in time to avert a second partial government shutdown this weekend.

It also includes increases for new technologies such as advanced screening at border entry points, humanitarian aid sought by Democrats, and additional customs officers.

At the weekend, Shelby pulled the plug on the talks over Democrat demands to limit immigrant detentions by federal authorities, but Democrats yielded ground on that issue on Monday.

Asked whether Trump would back the deal, Shelby said: “We certainly hope so.”

Trump travelled to El Paso, Texas, for a rally on Monday night focused on immigration and border issues. He has been adamant that Congress approve money for a wall along the border and took to the stage as lawmakers in Washington were announcing their breakthrough.

“They said that progress is being made with this committee,” Trump told his audience. “Just so you know, we’re building the wall anyway.”

After yielding on border barriers, Democrats focused on reducing funding for detention beds to curb what they see as harsh enforcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

The agreement yielded curbed funding for ICE detention beds, which Democrats promised would mean the agency would hold fewer detainees

Trump met on Monday afternoon with top advisers to discuss the talks. He softened his rhetoric on the wall but ratcheted it up over the beds issue.

“Not only don’t they want to give us money for a wall, they don’t want to give us the space to detain murderers, criminals, drug dealers, human smugglers,” he said.

According to ICE figures, 66 per cent of the nearly 159,000 immigrants it reported detaining last year were previously convicted of crimes. Reflecting the two administration’s differing priorities, in 2016 under President Barack Obama, around 110,000 immigrants were detained and 86 per cent had criminal records.