Immigration fight imperils deal on disaster aid package

A fight over immigration enforcement language has emerged as an 11th-hour roadblock to getting a disaster aid deal before lawmakers leave Washington for the Memorial Day recess. 


The sticking point, according to lawmakers and aides, is how much of the administration's $4.5 billion request for emergency funding for the U.S.-Mexico border will be included in the disaster aid package. 


The White House's $4.5 billion request included $3.3 billion for humanitarian assistance, which the administration said would be used to increase shelters and care for unaccompanied minors, in addition to processing arrivals. About $1.1 billion would go toward other border operations, such as expanding the number of detention beds and providing more investigation resources.  


Democrats have agreed to include humanitarian aid as part of an agreement on the disaster package, but a previous offer didn't include the administration's request for more money for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention beds, considered a non-starter for most of the caucus. 


Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said Wednesday evening that the negotiations still had "several" issues to resolve. 


"I'm hoping they're not insurmountable," Shelby told reporters. "I think right at the moment it's in abeyance. It's not there yet." 


Shelby told reporters Wednesday morning that the debate was stuck on funding for ICE and detention beds for migrants detained along the U.S.-Mexico border. 


Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) - who, like Shelby, has been in the middle of the months-long negotiations - pointed to House Republicans as the hold-up on the immigration provisions. 


"We're just waiting on the Republicans in the House. We worked everything to here," Leahy said. "They've got some immigration and other things." 


Asked about the status of talks, a House Democratic aide said that they were "working in good faith with our House Republican counterparts to conclude the final issues related to the border supplemental." 


Shelby, Leahy and other top lawmakers were initially expected to meet on Wednesday evening to try to hash out the remaining roadblocks. Shelby told reporters the meeting had been called off because of scheduling conflicts but that they were trying to reschedule for later Wednesday. 


The House Democratic aide added that they wouldn't be meeting and said Democrats were instead reviewing the latest offer from Republicans. An aide for Shelby didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about the offer. 


"We are carefully considering the GOP offer that we received in the last hour and a half. Instead of photo-op meetings, we want to iron out the remaining details and get this done," the Democratic aide said. 

Lawmakers have no time to spare if they are going to pass a bill before they leave for the Memorial Day recess. 


"It's looking better than it did last week, but I would remind everybody the clock is ticking," Leahy told reporters. 


Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pledged that he will force the chamber to vote on a disaster aid bill regardless of whether there is a deal that could pass both chambers. 


Top GOP senators had seemed optimistic earlier Wednesday that they were close to an agreement. 


Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, added that it wasn't "final until it's final" but hinted that they were close to an agreement. 


"My understanding is at least that most of the issues have been settled," he told reporters.