US lawmakers to hold border security talks in bid to avert shutdown

A visitor walks by the US Capitol on day 32 of a partial government shutdown as it becomes the longest in US history in Washington. Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters Washington, DC, USA Feb 11, 2019, 11.14 PM (IST)

The top four Democratic and Republican negotiators in the US Congress on border security funding plan to meet on Monday in a bid to reach an elusive deal by a Friday deadline to avert another partial government shutdown.

The talks were scheduled to resume in Washington hours before Republican President Donald Trump plans a rally in the Texas border city of El Paso, where he is expected to promote his long-promised wall along the US-Mexico border.

An anti-wall protest will greet the Republican president, led by hometown Democrat Beto O'Rourke, the former congressman who is considering running for his party's 2020 presidential nomination after gaining national prominence last year by nearly upsetting Republican Ted Cruz in a US Senate race in Texas.

In Washington, the lawmakers hope to reach an agreement on Monday to allow time for the legislation to pass the House of Representatives and Senate and get Trump's signature by Friday when funding is due to expire for the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and several other federal agencies.

Negotiations broke down during the weekend over funding for immigrant detention beds and physical barriers along the US-Mexico border.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, a Democrat, and the panel's top Republican, US Representative Kay Granger, will attend the meeting with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican, and the panel's senior Democrat Patrick Leahy, according to congressional aides. They were tentatively set to meet at 3:30 p.m. (2030 GMT).

Trump's December demand for $5.7 billion to help construct a border wall triggered a 35-day partial government shutdown that ended last month without the president getting wall funding. Trump agreed to reopen the government for three weeks to allow congressional negotiators time to find a compromise on government funding for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on September 30, to avert another shutdown on February 15.

The disagreement over border barriers and making detention facilities able to hold more immigrants to be deported are at the heart of the dispute between congressional Democrats and Trump, who has sought to crack down on illegal and legal immigration.

Campaign promise

Trump made a border wall one of his central campaign promises in 2016, saying it is needed to curb illegal immigration, drug trafficking and other crimes. Democrats, who assumed control of the House last month from Trump's fellow Republicans, oppose a wall as ineffective, expensive and immoral.

A sticking point in the border security talks has been a Democratic demand for funding fewer detention beds. Democrats oppose the Trump administration expanding its capacity to hold more people arrested by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents for eventual deportation.

Democrats generally push for less use of detention, arguing it is much cheaper to release some immigrants but require restrictions on them such as wearing ankle bracelets that track their location. Republicans want to increase the number of beds in detention facilities to enable holding more people to speed up and expand deportations.

Trump has called the situation at the border a national security crisis and deployed an extra 3,750 US troops there this month.

His 2020 re-election campaign made a wall the centrepiece of a fundraising drive seeking contributions of $5 or more from supporters by midnight on Monday.

California's Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, was poised to withdraw all 360 of his state's National Guard troops from the border to counter Trump's claim of a national security crisis, according to US media reports. Democratic-governed New Mexico made a similar move last week.

 

Story highlights

The talks were scheduled to resume in Washington hours before Republican President Donald Trump plans a rally in the Texas border city of El Paso, where he is expected to promote his long-promised wall along the US-Mexico border.