Border Security Talks Stall As Shutdown Deadline Nears

Negotiations to avert another shutdown appear to have stalled over the weekend with just four days left to go before funding runs out.

With just four days to go before the government shuts down again if a funding bill isn’t passed, negotiations between the House and Senate over a border security package that would resolve the issue holding up a final deal appear to be stalled:

WASHINGTON — Congressional efforts to reach a border security deal ahead of another government shutdown broke down on Sunday over Democratic demands to limit the detention of undocumented immigrants, as President Trump moved more troops to the border and prepared to rally supporters in Texas on Monday.

The 17 House and Senate negotiators had hoped to finalize a border security agreement on Monday, but hours before that deadline, communications had stopped, lawmakers and aides said.

Meantime, the Trump administration was moving on its own to fortify the southwestern border with thousands of active-duty military troops. The number of deployed troops on the Mexican border was set to exceed the high of 5,900 reached around the November elections, as about 3,700 active-duty troops were being sent to assist with the Department of Homeland Security’s border patrol efforts.

Senior officers are voicing greater worries that the deployed troops are not conducting the training needed for their regular missions, while other military units must now pick up the routine duties on behalf of their deployed colleagues.

But efforts to reach a broader, bipartisan deal on border security bogged down, days before much of the government is set to run out of funds at midnight Friday, with memories of the 35-day partial government shutdown — the nation’s longest in history — still fresh.

“I’ll say 50-50 we get a deal,” Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the Republican chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.” ”The specter of a shutdown is always out there.”

The impasse appears to center on Democratic demands for a limit on the number of unauthorized immigrants already in the country who could be detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, according to aides familiar with the talks. Democrats say a cap of 16,500 beds in ICE detention centers would force the Trump administration to focus on detaining undocumented immigrants with criminal records instead of using indiscriminate sweeps that drag in otherwise law-abiding residents.

“For far too long, the Trump administration has been tearing communities apart with its cruel immigration policies,” Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, Democrat of California and one of the negotiators, said on Sunday. “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.”

Republicans demanded an exception to the cap for criminals, according to an aide familiar with the negotiations. Democrats declined, saying their 16,500-bed cap left more than enough room for real criminals.


The looming deadline is exposing fissures in both parties. The more liberal members of the Democratic caucus, many of whom ran on abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement altogether, have been lobbying their colleagues on the committee to resist any increases in ICE funding.

Democratic negotiators held a conference call on Sunday morning to discuss options, according to a Democratic aide, but did not settle on a final decision on how to move forward. Another short-term spending bill could prevent a lapse in funding on Friday, though lawmakers have expressed reluctance at punting again on a final agreement.

Still, Mr. Shelby and Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana and a member of the negotiating committee, said on Sunday that they had not given up.

Other sticking points remain, including how much money to allocate for barriers at the border. Lawmakers were eyeing between $1.3 billion and $2 billion, far less than the $5.7 billion that the president demanded for his signature campaign promise — and shut down the government over in December.

Mr. Trump, who has vacillated between publicly condemning the talks as a “waste of time” and privately showing flexibility, blamed Democratic leadership for the breakdown.

“I don’t think the Dems on the Border Committee are being allowed by their leaders to make a deal,” he wrote on Twitter. “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!”

More from Politico:

Negotiations to avert another government shutdown abruptly fell apart over the weekend, raising the risk of another shuttering of services, a stopgap funding bill or a declaration by President Donald Trump of a national emergency at the southern border.

The collapse of the talks over hammering out a border security package and paying for a barrier leave lawmakers in the same place they’ve been for months. Among the issues Democratic negotiators are focused on is Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests of undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., not just crossing the border. They also insist they want a cap on detention beds to force ICE to prioritize which undocumented immigrants it targets within the U.S., and they say that without it, the agency will increase deportation raids in local communities without valid reason.

The latest impasse suggests Democrats are not seeing much incentive to concede to the Trump administration’s requests for billions of dollars in border wall money, after winning the last round of shutdown negotiations. Trump agreed to reopen the government for three weeks to see whether Republicans and Democrats could strike a deal on border security. But the prospect of that is dimming.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) acknowledged on Sunday that negotiations had stalled, and he put the odds of getting a deal at 50-50.

“We’ve got some problems with the Democrats dealing with ICE,” Shelby told Fox News’ Chris Wallace. “I’m not confident we’re going to get there. I’m hoping we will get there.”

The faltering discussions came after lawmakers entered the weekend feeling optimistic about their chances of crafting a bipartisan deal. Negotiators are under pressure to reach an agreement by Monday to fund the government past Feb. 15, in order to allow the House and Senate sufficient time to review and vote on the proposal.

Also on Monday, Trump will hold a rally for supporters in the border city of El Paso, Texas, to once again make his case for building a barrier.

Even if the conference committee fails and Congress considers a stopgap funding bill, Republicans and Democrats may still clash over the particulars of any continuing resolution, a form of appropriations legislation that Democrats may use to restrict unilateral action by Trump on the border.

The White House is open to signing a continuing resolution, a change from its previous position, according to White House and congressional officials. White House officials signaled to lawmakers during a weekend retreat at Camp David that it preferred a continuing resolution to the deal the committee was likely to offer, which would have supplied between $500 million and $1 billion for border fencing in addition to the $1.3 billion in the current stopgap bill, according to one Democratic aide.

As I noted when looking at this issue on Thursday, the Conference Committee has a limited amount of time to come up with a deal if something is going to get passed prior to the close of business on Friday. This is due to the fact that it will take some time to put any such deal into appropriate legislative language and then get it passed in the House and Senate. Even assuming the parties can rely on what essentially amounts to unanimous consent in both chambers that would allow for quick votes with a limited amount of debate, that probably means that we would need to see a package no later than sometime on Wednesday, and preferably earlier than that. What is encouraging in this news is the fact that the negotiators appear to have moved beyond the divisive issue of border security and are concentrating on somewhat more tangential issues that, at least in theory, could be separated from the overall package and dealt with at a later date. Whether that’s what happens or not is something we’ll just have to wait and see.

From a political point of view, it seems to me as if Democrats are pushing their luck a bit here. To the extent the discussion is about funding for the President’s border wall, then it’s clear from the polls that Democrats are going to win the political argument and the President and the Republicans stand to lose in the eyes of the public. The current impasse, though, doesn’t appear to be over a wall or border security funding, but over the funding for beds for people being held at or near the border pending asylum or other immigration proceedings. Democrats want to place limits on the number of beds authorized, presumably to place limits on the ability of the Trump Administration to hold migrants for extended periods of time. Republicans, ostensibly, are asking for an exemption in that limit to apply to people who have a criminal record, something that at least appears to be reasonable on its face. This seems to be a significant moving of the goalposts and ought to be something that can be resolved outside of budget negotiations in any case.

If the negotiators are unable to reach a deal, then one alternative would be for the parties to agree to kick the can down the road again a few weeks with another stopgap funding bill that would at the very least eliminate the possibility of another government shutdown. That way, the parties could continue negotiating on the immigration issues without having the distraction of another shutdown. Unless negotiators are able to resolve this current impasse, that may be the way Congress will have to go.

As they say, say tuned.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Congress, Deficit and Debt, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Democrats want to place limits on the number of beds authorized

    I’m afraid it looks like Dems are going to overplay their hand.
    They should just take the win, use it to ridicule Dennison for his lack of deal-making ability, and move on.

  2. Grumpy Realist says:

    If I were in charge of the negotiations I’d also insist that ICE not be allowed to separate kids from families until they could track them at least as well as Ace Hardware store does with penny nails.

    How in the heck can you LOSE people’s kids?!

  3. KM says:

    Republicans, ostensibly, are asking for an exemption in that limit to apply to people who have a criminal record, something that at least appears to be reasonable on its face.

    It’s only reasonable until you realize the Repub definition of “criminal record” would include illegal border crossing prima facie. Notice they’re making no distinction between a violent gang-banger’s record and the guy that jaywalked once after crossing the border. That’s *why* they’re insisting on it because in their minds, it renders the cap useless. After all, aren’t they all breaking the law in some fashion and thus would have a criminal record eventually? Having it documented in the courts is a merely a formality they feel they can dispose of.

    I have no problem with the cap not including violent offenders but “anyone with a criminal record” is a linguistic trap to be wary of.

  4. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Grumpy Realist:

    How in the heck can you LOSE people’s kids?!

    They aren’t lost; Betsy DeVos is monetizing them.
    Kind of like Amway for brown-skinned children.

    Bethany Christian Services, an adoption center with financial ties to [Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos, has taken 81 immigrant children who were forcibly separated from their parents at the border. Most have had no contact with their families. They’re charging $700 per child per night.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    Yes. Politics is all about compromise. Ds clearly had the high hand on PR over the last shutdown. Frankly, I think ICE should be torn down and replaced or at least placed under completely new management. But that can’t happen unless we keep the House and gain at least the presidency or the Senate in ‘20. All eyes need to be on that prize. The country needs to move left, the country wants to move left, but patience.

  6. Kathy says:

    The GOP made a huge mistake not offering a healthcare/insurance program of their own while Bush the younger held the White House, or even afterwards when Obama was elected.

    The Democrats may err the same way by nor offering up their program or policies for securing the border.

  7. Not the IT Dept. says:

    There is no reason to shut down the government at all, and the Democrats should not fall for this ridiculous threat. The wall is a stupid idea and to say that it should be the subject of serious negotiation is laughable. This phony crisis is entirely the GOP’s fault and there is no reason anyone else should let them off the hook.

    If the government shuts down again, then the airports should close immediately because they cannot be operated safely. Including airports that are used by private planes. Then we’ll see how fast the GOP reps come around.

  8. Jay L Gischer says:

    Yeah, it looks like Republicans knew the wall itself was a loser in public opinion, but think that this issue will let them say Democrats are happy to let illegal aliens go free (to take jobs that citizens should get, or commit crimes in the future, or whatever.)

    I support the Dems policy – don’t spend a lot of money dealing with people who are here illegally but not causing trouble. I don’t think that’s a priority, per se. But is it a hill to die on? I don’t know. We’re seeing this because they are testing the waters, publicly, to see how strong a hand each side has.

    That said, I think it’s likely they will get a deal at the last minute. Because it’s always at the last minute for negotiations like this. Holding out is a way to test the other side’s resolve. So I’m not too worried about that. I am worried about what Trump will do, because he’s incapable of making a decision and sticking to it.

  9. Sleeping Dog says:

    The win for Dems, is no funding for Tiny’s wall. They should pocket the win and address these ‘new’ issues in the next budget.

  10. just nutha says:

    @Grumpy Realist:

    until they could track them at least as well as Ace Hardware store does with penny nails.

    Alas, you’ll never convince me that losing people’s kids was not a feature of the program. They had in mind to enact a particularly draconian policy and they exceeded their wildest dreams.

    In the spirit of compromise, the Dems should promise to immediately authorize additional beds as soon as 90% of all the beds are being used by either criminals felons, asylum seekers or both.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:


    The Democrats may err the same way by nor offering up their program or policies for securing the border.

    They have offered up many such policies for “securing the border”. Sorry, none of them abrogate treaties the US has signed onto. A thing Republicans object to.

  12. gVOR08 says:

    As of late this evening, apparently we have a deal on the table. Supposedly little money for “wall”, “slats”, “barriers”, nice white pickets, whatever. No reaction yet from leadership or Trump.

    Also supposedly Trump tried out a new chant tonight, “keep building the wall”. Keep? Maybe he’s finally declaring victory and quitting.

  13. gVOR08 says:

    @gVOR08: I see the chant was Finish the Wall. And the deal is about 1.3 billion, apparently mostly for repair of existing barriers and fences. Unclear, but apparently the Ds mostly dropped the bed thing.