'Agreement In Principle' Reached On Border Security Funding, Top Republican Says

Feb 12, 2019
Originally published on February 12, 2019 4:59 am

Updated at 1:39 a.m. ET Tuesday

Congressional negotiators have reached what they are calling "an agreement in principle" on a border-security spending agreement. Details of the agreement have not yet been released. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., says the full details will be released when the drafting of the bill is complete — a process that could be finished on Tuesday, at the earliest.

The bipartisan deal was negotiated by members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and will address all seven spending bills that expired during the recent partial government shutdown. The package will not include disaster relief.

Negotiators agreed to $1.375 billion for "physical barriers" at the border — the same level that was agreed to in last year's Department of Homeland Security funding bill, according to multiple congressional sources. This will fund about 55 miles of fencing.

President Trump has been demanding $5.7 billion for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border so the deal is significantly less that the White House's request.

Separately, negotiators also agreed to more resources for non-barrier border security measures such as technology and resources at ports of entry along with humanitarian aid.

Negotiators also agreed to an overall number of 40,520 detention beds at Immigration and Custom Enforcement facilities for the year — a drop from the current number of 49,057, according to two congressional sources. The number of detention beds had been a sticking point that had stalled negotiations over the weekend.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., one of the negotiators working on the deal, told reporters after Monday evening's meeting that both sides had to give some.

"Not a single one of us going to get every single thing we want but nobody does. But we're going to get what is best for the United States," Leahy said.

The compromising did not go over well with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, an influential member of a group of the most conservative Republicans in the House. "While the President was giving a great speech in El Paso, Congress was putting together a bad deal on immigration," Jordan tweeted late Monday night.

Shelby says White House staff was kept apprised of the talks but none of the top negotiators would say if they have any guarantees that President Trump will sign the deal. "We think so, we hope so," Shelby said when pressed about whether the president would back the proposal.

At a rally in El Paso Monday night, Trump claimed he didn't know the details and "didn't want to hear about it," sticking to his robust talking points on the border wall anyway.

"As I was walking up to the stage, they said that progress is being made with this committee. Just so you know, we're building the wall anyway," he said to raucous applause, underneath banners that read "Finish the Wall."

Speaking in an interview with Fox News conducted on the sidelines of the rally, Trump suggested he didn't know many of the specifics of the deal and said "we'll see what happens." About his push for a border wall, Trump said his desire for a physical barrier is about safety. "A wall is a very good thing, not a bad thing. It's a moral thing," the president also said in the interview.

Shelby told reporters that he believes Congress can approve the legislation and send it to Trump for his signature before the Friday night deadline to avert another partial shutdown.

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What is in the border security agreement that congressional negotiators made last night? We are pretty sure of one thing that is not in it. Republicans and Democrats left out most of the money that President Trump was demanding for a border wall. The measure includes about the same amount of money for fencing that was available before the president's demand for a wall led to a partial government shutdown. The president learned of the deal just as he was arriving in El Paso, Texas, to promote spending on the wall that he once promised Mexico would pay for.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Just so you know, we're building the wall anyway. They say that progress has been made with this...


TRUMP: Just now, just now. I said, wait a minute. I got to take care of my people from Texas. I got to go. I don't even want to hear about it.

INSKEEP: Bipartisan negotiators were reaching the deal on the day the president traveled. And NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell has been covering this story all along. Hi there, Kelsey.


INSKEEP: OK. So what are the details you've been able to learn so far?

SNELL: So this is based on just some early reports from congressional aides who are familiar with the deal. We actually, as reporters and the public, have not seen this agreement yet because the people who write this bill, all of the staff were working on it all night long.

As far as we know, negotiators agreed to $1.375 billion for physical barriers at the border. Now, that's about the same level that was agreed to in last year's Department of Homeland Security funding bill. Now, what we're told is that the - that money's going to be used for about 55 miles of fencing. The details of where that will be has not been released. Trump has...

INSKEEP: But obviously a lot less than the couple hundred miles of wall that the president had been demanding to pay for.

SNELL: Right. That - President Trump had been demanding that $5.7 billion, so this is significantly less than that. And negotiators also agreed to more resources for non-barrier border security. And they agreed to a drop in the overall number of detention beds in Immigration and Custom (ph) Enforcement facilities. It's about a 17 percent drop from the current number of 49,000 to about 40,000.

INSKEEP: Would you help explain that last number? We've just been discussing this seriously over the last day or so on the program, but it's been an issue, I know, for a long time for congressional negotiators. Why does anybody care the exact number of beds that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has to - for detainees?

SNELL: All right. So part of the argument that Democrats are making is that if there are more beds, then it encourages Immigrations and Custom Enforcement, or ICE, to put more people in those beds. And they want to restrict the ability of ICE to do what they call internal enforcement, which is going around to cities and towns and bringing people in for detention. Republicans on the other hand say the beds are necessary for them to enforce existing criminal and immigration laws and if there is a cap put on the beds, that it artificially, you know, hamstrings the ICE officials from doing the job that they were employed to do.

INSKEEP: I guess we should try to sort out some fact checking here as well because the president last night in El Paso spoke of a mass release of violent offenders. If there are still 40,520 detention beds, does it seem likely that ICE is going to have to do a mass release of violent offenders?

SNELL: We don't know any of the information about that yet. What we do know is that the agreement that was reached was based on requests from DHS and ICE themselves. And the negotiators, the people who wrote this spending bill, were in contact where - with ICE and DHS and briefed by them several times.

INSKEEP: That leads to one other point. The appropriators, the people in the appropriations committees who reached this deal, how would you describe their approach? Is it fairly bipartisan?

SNELL: It's very bipartisan. This deal was reached by a group of four leaders who write spending bills. And it was two Democrats and two Republicans. And they say they have pretty strong sign-off from leadership on both sides.

INSKEEP: OK. Kelsey, thanks for the update and the reporting. Really appreciate it.

SNELL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Kelsey Snell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.