US President Donald Trump speaks to the press after meeting with sheriffs from across the country at the White House. Photo: Getty Images

Deadlock over immigrant cap could lead to new shutdown in US

Deadlock over immigrant cap could lead to new shutdown in US

Deadlock over immigrant cap could lead to new shutdown in US

Deadlock over immigrant cap could lead to new shutdown in US

Deadlock over immigrant cap could lead to new shutdown in US
Deadlock over immigrant cap could lead to new shutdown in US
  • 2019-02-12 03:15:08 2 months ago
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  • By: independent.ie
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US President Donald Trump speaks to the press after meeting with sheriffs from across the country at the White House. Photo: Getty Images
US President Donald Trump speaks to the press after meeting with sheriffs from across the country at the White House. Photo: Getty Images

Jonathan Lemire

The prospect of another US shutdown has moved a step closer as negotiators remained deadlocked over whether to limit the number of migrants authorities can detain, creating a new hurdle for a border security compromise.

The White House refused to rule out the possibility that the federal government may once again be forced to close down unless a deal Congress can accept can be hammered out by Friday.

But as the deadline closes in, the two sides remained separated over how much to spend on President Donald Trump's promised border wall.

Rising to the fore was a dispute over curbing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency that Republicans see as an emblem of tough immigration policies and Democrats accuse of often going too far.

Republicans favour rigid enforcement of immigration laws and have little interest in easing them if Democrats refuse to fund the Mexican border wall.

Democrats despise the proposed wall and, in return for border security funds, want to curb what they see as unnecessarily harsh enforcement by ICE.

People involved in the talks say Democrats have proposed limiting the number of immigrants who are caught inside the US - not at the border - that the agency can detain.

Republicans do not want that cap to apply to immigrants caught committing crimes, but Democrats do.

Democrats said they proposed their cap to force ICE to concentrate its internal enforcement efforts on dangerous immigrants, not those who lack legal authority to be in the country but are productive and otherwise pose no threat. They have proposed reducing the current number of beds ICE uses to detain immigrants in the US illegally from 40,520 to 35,520.

But within that limit, they have also proposed limiting to 16,500 the number for illegal immigrants caught within the US, including criminals.

Republicans want no caps on the number of immigrants who have committed crimes who can be held by ICE.

Mr Trump used the dispute to cast Democrats as soft on criminals.

"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 and now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention," he tweeted.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, in appearances on US new programmes, said "you absolutely cannot" eliminate the possibility of another shutdown if a deal is not reached over the wall and other border matters.

The White House had asked for $5.7bn (€5bn), a figure rejected by the Democratic-controlled House, and the mood among bargainers has soured, according to people familiar with the negotiations not authorised to speak publicly.

"You cannot take a shutdown off the table, and you cannot take $5.7 (billion) off the table," Mr Mulvaney said. "But if you end up someplace in the middle, yeah, then what you probably see is the president say, 'Yeah, OK, and I'll go find the money someplace else'."

While the two sides appeared close to clinching a deal late last week, significant gaps remain and momentum appears to have slowed.

Though congressional Democratic aides asserted that the dispute had caused the talks to break off, it was initially unclear how damaging the rift was.

Both sides are eager to resolve the battle and avert a fresh closure of dozens of federal agencies that would begin next weekend if Congress does not act by Friday.

"I think talks are stalled right now," Senator Richard Shelby said. "I'm not confident we're going to get there."

Senator Jon Tester agreed: "We are not to the point where we can announce a deal."

But Mr Mulvaney did signal that the White House would prefer not to have a repeat of the last shutdown, which stretched more than a month, left more than 800,000 government workers without paycheques, forced a postponement of the State of the Union address and sent Mr Trump's poll ratings tumbling.

As support in his own party began to splinter, Mr Trump surrendered after the shutdown hit 35 days without getting money for the wall.

Irish Independent

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Deadlock over immigrant cap could lead to new shutdown in US