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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 TrumpDonald Trump Jr. calls Bruce Springsteen's dropped charges 'liberal privilege' Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee 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-AllardOvernight Health Care: CDC panel recommends who gets vaccine first | McConnell offering new relief bill | Hahn downplays White House meeting on vaccines Democrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? Democratic Women's Caucus members split endorsements for House campaign chief 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 JayapalBiden 'disappointed' in Senate parliamentarian ruling but 'respects' decision House Democrats to keep minimum wage hike in COVID-19 relief bill for Friday vote Bill would strip pension for president convicted of felony 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 GallegoMore than 0K raised for Ohio mom arrested for leaving kids alone at motel to work GoFundMe set up for mother arrested after leaving kids alone while at work GOP Arizona rep urges vaccine priority for 'people that are here legally' 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 CapitoPassage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Biden's unity effort falters Capito asks White House to allow toxic chemicals rule to proceed MORE (R-W.Va.), chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyBlack Caucus members lobby Biden to tap Shalanda Young for OMB head On The Money: Senate panels postpone Tanden meetings in negative sign | Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy 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 LoweyTrump seeks to freeze .4 billion of programs in final week of presidency This week: Trump's grip on Hill allies faces test Trump signs .3T relief, spending package MORE (D-N.Y.) and their respective ranking members, Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPress: The big loser: The Republican Party Senate acquits Trump in 57-43 vote Trump lawyer irked after senators laugh at him MORE (D-Vt.) and Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerHere are the House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump Growing number of lawmakers test positive for COVID-19 after Capitol siege Overnight Health Care: US sets record for daily COVID-19 deaths with over 3,800 | Hospitals say vaccinations should be moving faster | Brazilian health officials say Chinese COVID vaccine 78 percent effective 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.