House Democrats reveal details for opening offer in border negotiations

Posted at 12:25 PM, Jan 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-31 14:25:01-05
FILE: Normandy fencing

House Democrats provided a detailed offer Thursday — with dollar figures — of their opening offer in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding negotiations.

The plan does not include funding for a border wall sought by President Trump. In her weekly news conference Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed the ongoing negotiations over border security, making it clear that she still opposes a wall.

“There is not going to be any wall money in the legislation,” Pelosi stated.  Later she commented on the already-present Normandy fencing at the southern border, which is low and intended to prevent cars from crossing.

“If the president wants to call that a wall — he can call that a wall.” The speaker referenced several technological developments that could be added to southern border security which were not available when the current fences were erected years ago.

A bipartisan committee of Senate and House negotiators began talks Wednesday on a DHS spending bill aimed at reaching an agreement on border security funding before it lapses on Feb. 15. The negotiators have added pressure due to a 35-day shutdown over the $5.7 billion for the wall requested by Mr. Trump, who has indicated that he is willing to allow another shutdown or call for a national emergency if no wall funding is proposed.

“The summary provides an outline of House Democrats’ position entering conference negotiations. As Chairwoman Lowey said yesterday, conference negotiations will be in good faith and every proposal raised by conferees will be thoughtfully considered,” said House Appropriations Committee communications director Evan Hollander about the offer provided on Thursday.

The summary includes over $55 billion total in discretionary appropriations, which is over a billion above the budget request, and half a billion above the funding for the previous fiscal year. It also includes $6.6 billion for major disaster recovery activities, $165 million for the Overseas Contingency Operations of the Coast Guard, and over $14 billion for Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Democrats propose increasing CBP funding for recruitment, requesting for 1,000 additional customs officers, as well as more money for opioid detection and infrastructure improvements at ports of entry. There is no additional funding for more Border Patrol agents, but they give funding for Border Patrol relocation and retention programs and an additional $502 million to address humanitarian concerns at the border. Mr. Trump has framed the situation at the border as a “humanitarian crisis.”

The offer would provide $400 million for border security technology procurement and deployment, but it specifically prohibits use of funds to construct physical barriers at the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, La Lomita Historical Park, National Butterfly Center, and Vista del Mar Ranch tract. One of the concerns about building a wall is that it would impinge upon national parks and private property on the border.

Democrats are also proposing $7.4 billion for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, with $7 million above the administration request for detention facility inspections, so they increase from one every one-to-three years to twice a year. It funds an average daily population in detention beds of 35,520 for the rest of the fiscal year and phases out family detention by the end of the fiscal year.

Family detention has been one of Democrats’ signature reasons for opposing Mr. Trump’s illegal immigration policies. Their plan also includes more money for alternatives to detention case management personnel and family case management and prohibits Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from placing sponsors of unaccompanied children intro removal proceedings — except those convicted of serious crimes, or with serious pending criminal charges, or who may pose a danger to children.

In an overture to Mr. Trump’s focus on the drug and human trafficking at the border, the Democratic proposal increases funding to Homeland Security Investigations to focus on drug, gang, trade, cyber, financial investigations.

However, Mr. Trump reiterated again Thursday that a bill which does not include funding for a wall is a non-starter for him.

“If there’s no wall, it doesn’t work. She’s just playing games,” Mr. Trump said Thursday of Pelosi and any DHS funding legislation to come from the bipartisan negotiations.

In a series of tweets on Thursday morning, Mr. Trump claimed that a wall was already being built, and urged Democrats to “stop playing political games.”

“Lets just call them WALLS from now on and stop playing political games! A WALL is a WALL!” Mr. Trump said in one tweet.

“Very sadly, Murder cases in Mexico in 2018 rose 33% from 2017, to 33,341. This is a big contributor to the Humanitarian Crises taking place on our Southern Border and then spreading throughout our Country. Worse even than Afghanistan. Much caused by DRUGS. Wall is being built!” he said in another.