- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2019

Four leading congressional negotiators are scheduled to meet Monday afternoon in hopes of jump-starting stalled talks over border security funding, as lawmakers race to avert another shutdown ahead of a Feb. 15 deadline.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, Rep. Kay Granger and Sen. Patrick Leahy are slated to meet amid an impasse over the number of Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE) detention beds both sides want to include in a homeland security funding bill.

“We want more beds. They want fewer because they want more people to come into the United States of America,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Monday on “Fox and Friends.” “And everything else is on the table here, too.”

Ms. Granger is the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee and Mr. Leahy is the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

All four lawmakers are part of a 17-member “conference committee” trying to work out a deal on border security funding.



Members on the committee had expressed optimism late last week that negotiations were trending in the right direction. But talks hit a snag over the weekend, as Democrats insist on placing a cap on the number of ICE detention beds associated with interior enforcement.

ICE is holding about 49,000 immigrants in detention, and the White House has asked for 52,000 beds.

Democrats want to cut the number to about 34,000, with an additional limit of 16,500 beds for people ICE arrests in the interior.

The administration said ICE is holding about 20,000 criminal immigrants arrested in the interior, and that Democrats’ limits could force thousands of them onto the streets.

A source familiar with the ongoing talks described the new cap on beds as a “poison pill.”

“Should Dems insist on not only underfunding new barriers but also push their policy of allowing criminals into our streets, this conference is over,” the source said.

Democrats say the cap won’t result in the release of “violent” criminals, and that it will force the administration to prioritize deportation for criminals and people who pose real security threats.

Lawmakers have also yet to settle on a specific dollar amount for construction on President Trump’s desired U.S.-Mexico border wall, which is the issue that helped lead to an impasse last year and, ultimately, a 35-day partial government shutdown.

Mr. Trump has asked for $5.7 billion in wall money, while House Democrats recently included no money for physical barriers in their opening offer in the current talks.

“I’ve heard that there may be a deal with as much as $2.1 or $2.5 billion for a border fence. Then I hear that there may be zero or as little as $800 million for the border fence … it’s all over the map,” acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Stephen Dinan and Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this story.

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