Government shutdown: Lawmakers scramble to resolve impasse as Friday deadline looms
WASHINGTON – Top lawmakers are to meet Monday afternoon in search of a compromise on immigration after negotiations over government funding broke down over the weekend.
They seek a way out of an impasse over border security and internal enforcement four days before parts of the government are set to shut down again, absent a deal.
As Congress races against a Friday deadline to strike a deal or risk another government shutdown, President Donald Trump will head to El Paso for a political rally – his first since the November midterm election. Trump accused Democrats of acting "irrationally" on border issues in a tweet over the weekend.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and the top Republican on the committee, Kay Granger of Texas, were set to huddle with Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and top Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont, according to Lowey spokesman Evan Hollander.
The Border Committee Democrats are behaving, all of a sudden, irrationally. Not only are they unwilling to give dollars for the obviously needed Wall (they overrode recommendations of Border Patrol experts), but they don’t even want to take muderers into custody! What’s going on?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2019
The group is part of a bipartisan, bicameral committee of appropriators selected to find a solution that can pass Congress and get support from the president before some of the government's funding lapses Friday at midnight.
Until this weekend, the biggest sticking point for the group had been how to deal with the president’s demand for a $5.7 billion wall along the southern border. During the last shutdown, Democrats refused to give him the money, saying the wall would be costly and ineffective.
Last week, they explored a compromise involving some sort of structure, though the figures discussed were far less than Trump’s initial request.
“I think that we expect that if the evidence supports the notion for enhanced fencing moving forward, that we will find some bipartisan consensus,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York said last week.
The president and Shelby expressed optimism about a deal last Thursday.
By Sunday, Shelby was less hopeful.
“I think the talks are stalled right now,” Shelby said on "Fox News Sunday," adding that the disagreement centered on Democrats' demands for a cap on detentions by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
“I will say 50/50 we get a deal," he said. "I hope and pray we do."
Democrats said ICE routinely detains more immigrants than it needs to, imprisoning those who don’t have criminal backgrounds and pose no threat to national or domestic security. That’s why they want to set a hard cap on the number of immigrants ICE detains, the goal being to force the agency to focus its resources on violent criminals.
“This agency needs checks and balances, so the Republicans want to get more wall money and Democrats want to get controls on ICE. This is what a negotiation looks like,” said Kerri Talbot of the advocacy group Immigration Hub.
Republicans said a detention cap would force the release of undocumented immigrants in custody and warned of the risk that many might not show up for scheduled hearings on whether they should be deported.
Matthew Albence, deputy director of ICE, said a cap on ICE detainees would be "damaging to public safety."
"We will immediately be forced to release criminal aliens sitting in our custody" if the cap is put in place, Albence said.
Federal data show that violent criminals make up a minority of the immigrants in ICE detention. The most common charges against those immigrants are driving under the influence, traffic violations, drug charges and immigration violations.
The Trump administration reversed an Obama-era policy of focusing its immigration enforcement efforts on undocumented immigrants with serious criminal records. Under the Obama administration, ICE agents were ordered to find and arrest specific undocumented immigrants with criminal records and to not arrest other immigrants who happened to be in the area at the time of the arrest. Trump overturned that policy, allowing ICE agents to arrest any suspects they come across during their day-to-day operations.
That has led to a rapid drop in the percentage of arrested immigrants who have a criminal record.
Sen. Jon Tester – a member of the conference committee and a moderate Democrat from Montana – said Monday that he was hopeful before the meeting between the appropriations group's leaders.
"I've talked to both sides," Tester said. "I think there is a sweet spot to be found here, where both sides can claim victory."
Last month, the government reopened after the longest partial government shutdown on record: 35 days.
If Congress can’t reach a deal that the president supports, funding for about a quarter of the government will run out and 800,000 workers could be forced to go without pay, again.
White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said on Fox News Sunday that a shutdown was “still on the table. We do not want it to come to that, but that option is still open to the president and will remain so.”
Contributing: Alan Gomez, John Fritze
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Government shutdown: Lawmakers scramble to resolve impasse as Friday deadline looms