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The Journal Gazette

Monday, February 11, 2019 1:00 am

Shutdown looms as talks stall

ICE detention limits disputed

Washington Post

WASHINGTON – The nation faces the real possibility of another government shutdown at the end of the week after bipartisan talks aimed at averting that outcome broke down in a dispute over immigration enforcement, lawmakers and aides said Sunday.

President Donald Trump's border wall demands, which precipitated the record-long 35-day shutdown that ended late last month, were a secondary issue in the impasse that developed over the weekend, according to officials in both parties.

Instead, after looking promising for days, the delicate negotiations collapsed over Democrats' insistence on limiting the number of unauthorized immigrants who can be detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The breakdown in talks made it unlikely that lawmakers will be able to finalize an agreement today, as they had hoped to do, so it could pass the House and Senate before Friday night's deadline.

“I think the talks are stalled right now,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama, the lead Republican negotiator, said on Fox News Sunday. “I'm not confident we're going to get there.”

The stalemate left the path forward to keeping the government open unclear.

There were some behind-the-scenes efforts to salvage the talks Sunday evening, but it was uncertain whether they would be successful.

The Homeland Security Department along with State, Agriculture, Commerce and a number of other federal agencies are currently operating on a stopgap spending bill that Trump signed Jan. 25. There's little appetite for another short-term funding extension, but without some action by midnight on Feb. 15, those agencies will run out of money and begin to shut down again.

Another funding lapse could affect many Americans within days, because one of the agencies that would go unfunded during the shutdown is the IRS, which is processing tax returns for millions of people. During the 35-day shutdown that began in late December, thousands of IRS officials refused to show up for work without pay, backlogging the tax filing process.

The president, who is scheduled to hold a rally tonight in El Paso, Texas, that's likely to focus on his demands for more border security, referenced the disagreement in a tweet on Sunday.

“I don't think the Dems on the Border Committee are being allowed by their leaders to make a deal. They are offering very little money for the desperately needed Border Wall & now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention!” the president wrote.

Lawmakers on the 17-member conference committee had been trading offers over how much money could go to barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, and were looking at between $1.3 billion and $2 billion – far short of the $5.7 billion Trump had demanded. The White House had begun to signal flexibility on that issue, even though Trump would end up with much less money than he sought, and the enhanced fencing or other barriers agreed to by Congress would fall short of the 200-plus miles of steel walls he'd wanted.

But throughout the talks, Democrats had also been focused on limiting ICE's ability to detain unauthorized immigrants, which has become a major issue for the party because of their opposition to the Trump administration's aggressive detention tactics.

The Democrats' proposal included a new limit on detention beds for immigrants picked up not at the border, but in the interior of the country.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., a member of the conference committee, defended the Democratic position on bed space.

“A cap on ICE detention beds will force the Trump administration to prioritize deportation for criminals and people who pose real security threats, not law-abiding immigrants who are contributing to our country,” Roybal-Allard said in a statement.