Two representatives from each major US party are meeting to try to strike a deal that will prevent another partial government shutdown.
The deadline to reach an agreement is Friday 15 February. If the legislation has not passed through both the House and Representatives and the Senate and been signed by Trump by then, the temporary funding for government bodies such as the Department of Homeland Security will run out and the shutdown will resume.
The previous shutdown stretched out to 35 days and cost the US an estimated US$3 billion in lost revenue.
Hundreds of thousands of federal workers were placed on unpaid leave or continued to work without being paid during the last shutdown.
Congress has less than five days to avoid another shutdown https://t.co/hUt8icXi68
— Vox (@voxdotcom) February 11, 2019
Parties divided over role of ICE and detention facilities
Texan representative Kay Granger and Alabama Senator Richard Shelby were representing the Republicans at the Capitol Hill talks. Nita Lowey (New York) and Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy were tasked with handling the negotiations for the Democrats.
A previous round of negotiations appeared to be progressing well but ultimately failed when the two parties could not find common ground on the number of immigrant detention beds and clashed over border barriers. Democrats had sought to reduce the number of beds Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials use from 40,520 to 35,520.
Republicans say they will not budge on Democratic demands to limit immigrant detentions by ICE officials and this issue has now eclipsed the unresolved question of funding for Trump’s border wall.
The role of ICE has increasingly become a political faultline in the US. Republicans want to keep strict enforcement of immigration laws in place, but many Democrats have come to see it as unnecessarily punitive and a number of prominent party members have advocated abolishing the agency.
Shelby told Fox News Sunday that time was of the essence but that some divisions remained. “We got some problems with the Democrats dealing with ICE, that is detaining criminals that come into the US,” he said. “They (Democrats) want a cap on them. We don’t want a cap on that.”
“I think the next 24 hours are crucial,” Shelby added.
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 11, 2019
Trump outraged by the Democrats immigration demands
On Twitter, Trump was incensed about the Democrats approach to immigrant detention. “The Democrats do not want us to detain, or send back, criminal aliens!,” he wrote. “This is a brand new demand. Crazy!”
The US President told a group of sheriffs that he would not be compromising on the detention beds issue. “These are people, they kidnap people. These are people the Democrats want to come into our society. I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t know, maybe we’re in a different country than I know of.”
Another option that is still on the table for Trump is declaring a national emergency. He could then redirect funds to building the wall. Many influential Republicans have counselled against such a move, however, and consider it an inappropriate use of the President’s executive power and something that could set a dangerous precedent.
Later in the day, President Donald Trump will appear in the Texan city of El Paso, one of the border locations he plans to construct a wall.
Trump will be met by a protest against the wall led by Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who made a high-profile run at the US Senate last year. O’Rourke is still considering whether to run for President in 2020.