GOP claims victory in fight over ICE detention powers

February 12, 2019 GMT

They struck a deal in principle. Now begins the arguing over what it actually means.

Less than 24 hours after negotiators said they had an agreement on border wall money, detention beds and the rest of the homeland security spending bill, Republicans and Democrats saw it in very different terms.

What is clear is that the legislation includes $1.375 billion to build 55 miles of barriers on the border.

Democrats claimed victory, saying the barrier cannot be a concrete wall, so President Trump lost out on his biggest demand.

But the money can be used for bollard-style fencing which the Border Patrol has been building for years, and which agents label wall so Republicans said it was higher than the $1 House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had said was her ante.


“The president gets to build [the] wall,” said Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican.

A key question will be what the agreement does to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s ability to detain and deport illegal immigrants.

Mr. Trump had sought to fund 52,000 detention beds, while Democrats had demanded a limit of just 34,000 beds, with a specific can on how many of those could be from ICE arrests in the interior of the country the people who already made it past the Border Patrol.

A Democratic aide said they settled for funding that would put ICE on a “glide path” down to 40,520 beds, from about 49,000 today.

Not so fast, said GOP leaders.

They said the bill will allow detention of up to 58,000 migrants by ICE, dependent on circumstances.

“It’s not everything the president hoped to get but I think it’s a good step in the right direction,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “I hope he’ll decide to sign it.”

The detention bed fight had turned into an early test round in Democrats push to rein in ICE what some on the party’s left wing call their “Abolish ICE” agenda.

Sen. Roy Blunt, who is on the 17-member committee that has been working on a deal for several weeks, said his understanding is that there’s “plenty of flexibility” on detention beds.

“There’s [about] $750 million that could be repurposed if detention beds become an ongoing issue,” said Mr. Blunt, Missouri Republican. “It would be our view that there’s enough flexibility there for internal enforcement of immigration control to detain people who have a criminal record who should be detained.”