Washington: Congressional negotiators have reached an agreement to prevent a government shutdown and finance construction of new barriers along the US-Mexico border, overcoming a late-stage hang-up over immigration enforcement issues that had threatened to scuttle the talks.
Republicans were desperate to avoid another bruising shutdown. They tentatively agreed Monday night to far less money for President Donald Trump's border wall than the White House's USD 5.7 billion wish list, settling for a figure of nearly USD 1.4 billion, according to congressional aides.
That means 55 miles of new fencing constructed through existing designs such as metal slats instead of a concrete wall but far less than the 215 miles the White House demanded in December. The fencing would be built in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
"We reached an agreement in principle," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., appearing with a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers who concurred.
"Our staffs are just working out the details," said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N Y.
Details won't be officially released until Tuesday, but the pact came in time to alleviate any threat of a second partial government shutdown this weekend. Aides revealed the details under condition of anonymity because the agreement is tentative.
The agreement also includes increases for new technologies such as advanced screening at border entry point, humanitarian aid sought by Democrats, and additional customs officers.
This weekend, Shelby pulled the plug on the talks over Democratic demands to limit immigrant detentions by federal authorities, frustrating some of his fellow negotiators, but Democrats yielded ground on that issue in a fresh round of talks on Monday.
Asked if Trump would back the deal, Shelby said: "We believe from our dealings with them and the latitude they've given us, they will support it. We certainly hope so." The border debate got most of the attention, but it's just part of a major spending measure to fund a bevy of Cabinet departments.
A collapse of the negotiations would have imperiled another upcoming round of budget talks that are required to prevent steep spending cuts to the Pentagon and domestic agencies.
Trump travelled to El Paso, Texas, for a campaign-style rally Monday night focused on immigration and border issues. He has been adamant that Congress approve money for a wall along the Mexican border, though he no longer repeats his 2016 mantra that Mexico will pay for it.
Democrats carried more leverage into the talks after besting Trump on the 35-day shutdown but showed flexibility in hopes on winning Trump's signature. After yielding on border barriers, Democrats focused on reducing funding for detention beds to curb what they see as unnecessarily harsh enforcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
The agreement yielded curbed funding, overall, for ICE detention beds, which Democrats promised would mean the agency would hold fewer detainees than the current average of 49,000 detainees held each day. Democrats claimed the number of beds would be ratcheted down to 40,520.