ICE emerges as stumbling block in government funding talks

ICE emerges as stumbling block in government funding talks
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The debate around funding Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has emerged as a major stumbling block in negotiations to keep the government open beyond Dec. 20, with some lawmakers saying it is a more divisive issue than President TrumpDonald John TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle reports being asymptomatic and 'feeling really pretty good' after COVID-19 diagnosis Biden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE's proposed border wall. 

Democrats are insisting that the Homeland Security spending bill include drastic cuts to the number of beds ICE has available for detaining immigrants, a move that Republicans argue will lead to weaker border defense.

“I would think the ICE beds are the biggest obstacle,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-AllardLucille Roybal-AllardDemocrats offer security bill that prohibits border wall funding Keeping Dreamers, TPS holders in our workforce and communities is essential to the nation's economic recovery The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrat concedes in California House race MORE (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

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Leaders of the party’s liberal wing have been particularly outspoken on the issue.

“ICE beds just need to be cut,” said Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDemocrats fear US already lost COVID-19 battle Progressive lawmakers call for conditions on Israel aid Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down MORE (D-Wash.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

“The things that the administration is doing with immigrants and continuing to do is so cruel and horrific, from creating false schools for immigrants to come to and then to try to entrap them there, everything we’ve seen on the border, the continued separation of families. So we want to see real accountability,” she added.

Anger at ICE shot up this week, particularly among Democrats, following revelations that the agency set up a fake school in Michigan in a bid to lure foreign students to violate immigration laws.

“This organization has gone rogue and doesn't know how to prioritize real threats,” said Rep. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoHouse panel votes to limit Trump's Germany withdrawal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - As virus concerns grow, can it get worse for Trump? Latino man's death in Tucson fuels debate over police brutality on Hispanics MORE (D-Ariz.), vice chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bill in the House would reduce the number of beds from 35,520 at the end of fiscal 2019 to 34,000, and stipulate that only half of those could be used for interior enforcement.

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The Senate bill would put the number of beds at more than 52,000. Republicans argue that ICE needs more capacity to deal with the surge of immigrants crossing the border illegally, as well as asylum-seekers.

According to DHS, the detained population at the end of November was 44,860.

For many Democrats, immigration enforcement has become more pressing than funding battles over the wall.

“There are many more constituents who are affected by immigration enforcement than by the construction of a wall,” a Democratic aide said.

Trump’s proposed border wall played a prominent role in his 2016 campaign and has become an obstacle to passing spending bills every year since he took office.

Congress has repeatedly refused to allocate the roughly $5 billion he’s requested annually. Last year, the standoff led to a record-long 35-day government shutdown, after which Trump declared a state of emergency in order to reprogram other funds toward the wall. 

Neither the Democratic-controlled House nor the GOP-led Senate have succeeded in passing a DHS funding bill this year. Each chamber advanced its version of the spending bill in committee along party lines.

Negotiations on ICE have made little headway.

“That’s one of the two big issues, the wall funding and the riders that go along with that, and the ICE beds, and we’re negotiating that right now,” said Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names McConnell makes strong call for masks, saying there should be no stigma Ernst sinks vote on Trump EPA nominee MORE (R-W.Va.), chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyDemocrats sidestep budget deal by seeking 0B in emergency spending Fights over police reform, COVID-19 delay Senate appropriations markups Trump's push for major infrastructure bill faces GOP opposition MORE (R-Ala.) said Thursday that he was not optimistic about getting all the issues resolved before the Dec. 20 funding deadline.

“The reality is we haven’t closed the big impediments,” he said.

The ICE issue, he added, remained a sticking point. 

“The Democrats do not seem to be forthcoming with us on some of that, but that’s something we’ve got to discuss,” he said.

Appropriators had originally pegged Friday as the deadline for subcommittee chairs to wrap up work on the 12 annual spending bills, but several of the larger issues have been punted to next week.

Any unresolved issues would be left to Shelby to hammer out with House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyDemocrats sidestep budget deal by seeking 0B in emergency spending New Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Overnight Defense: House Dems offer M for Army to rename bases | Bill takes aim at money for Trump's border wall | Suspect in custody after shooting at Marine training facility  MORE (D-N.Y.) and their respective ranking members, Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyData shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse Overnight Defense: Navy won't reinstate fired captain | Dems probe use of federal officers in DC | Air Force appoints woman as top noncommissioned officer MORE (D-Vt.) and Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerOn The Money: Deficit rises to record .7 trillion amid pandemic: CBO | Democrats sidestep budget deal by seeking 0B in emergency spending | House panel advances spending bill with funding boost to IRS House panel advances spending bill with funding boost to IRS The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump backs another T stimulus, urges governors to reopen schools MORE (R-Texas).

With time running out and seemingly insurmountable obstacles surrounding ICE, some are already raising the possibility that another stopgap measure will be required. 

“[We] have to be thinking about it seriously by the end of next week,” Shelby said.