As Clock Ticks, New Hurdle Emerges in Border Security Talks

February 11, 2019 Updated: February 11, 2019

WASHINGTON—Bargainers clashed Feb. 10 over whether to limit the number of migrants authorities can detain, tossing a new hurdle before negotiators hoping to strike a border security compromise for Congress to pass this coming week. The White House wouldn’t rule out a renewed partial government shutdown if an agreement isn’t reached.

With the Feb. 15 deadline approaching, the two sides remained separated by hundreds of millions of dollars over how much to spend to construct President Donald Trump’s promised border wall. But rising to the fore was a related dispute over curbing Customs and Immigration Enforcement, or ICE, the federal agency that Republicans see as an emblem of tough immigration policies and Democrats accuse of often going too far.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, in appearances on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and “Fox News Sunday,” said “you absolutely cannot” eliminate the possibility of another shutdown if a deal is not reached over the wall and other border matters.

“You cannot take a shutdown off the table, and you cannot take $5.7 (billion) off the table,” Mulvaney told NBC, “but if you end up someplace in the middle, yeah, then what you probably see is the president say, ‘Yeah, OK, and I’ll go find the money someplace else.'”

“The president is going to build the wall. That’s our attitude at this point,” Mulvaney said on Fox. “We’ll take as much money as you can give us, and we’ll go find the money somewhere else, legally, and build that wall on the southern border, with or without Congress.”

People involved in the talks say Democrats have proposed limiting the number of immigrants here illegally who are caught inside the United States—not at the border—that the agency can detain. Republicans say they don’t want that cap to apply to immigrants caught committing crimes, but Democrats do.

Jonathan Lemire & Alan Fram

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