WASHINGTON >> A compromise on border and immigration enforcement cleared Congress today, giving President Donald Trump just a sliver of the money he wanted for his border wall. The White House said Trump would sign the bill and then declare a national emergency to try to shift money to wall-building from elsewhere in the federal budget. The bill, which averts another government shutdown, includes many other provisions. A look at some of the major elements:
The agreement provides $1.375 billion for 55 miles (88 kilometers) of Trump’s wall, all of it in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings by far. The deal includes $1.03 billion for 44 miles (70 kilometers) on normal soil and 11 miles (18 kilometers) on levees. The bill does not specify how much of the construction will extend existing barriers and how much will replace those barriers.
Trump inherited barriers covering 654 miles (1,046 kilometers), or about one-third of the border, much of it built from 2006 to 2009. So far, his administration has awarded contracts for 97 miles (155 kilometers), including 83 miles (133 kilometers) to replace existing barriers. Work begins this month on his first extension — 14 miles (22 kilometers) in the Rio Grande Valley.
Wall building will be prohibited in some environmentally or historically significant areas, including the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, La Lomita Historical Park and the privately run National Butterfly Center.
The administration is required to use “operationally effective designs,” like steel bollards, that predated the eight prototypes Trump ordered built in San Diego in 2017 amid great fanfare.
SHORT-TERM FAMILY DETENTION AT THE BORDER
The pact provides $30 million for a new Customs and Border Protection holding center in El Paso, Texas, and $33.5 million to upgrade the agency’s holding center in McAllen, Texas.
It prohibits “chain-link fence-type enclosures” that have been used in McAllen. Critics call them “cages.” It also requires “appropriate temperature controls,” a response to widespread complaints that the facilities are almost unbearably cold. And it urges the use of better blankets.
The Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, which covers West Texas and New Mexico, has emerged as the second-busiest corridor for illegal crossings in the last few months, jumping past Tucson, Arizona; San Diego; and Laredo, Texas. Arrests in the El Paso sector from October through January soared 437 percent from the same period a year earlier, compared with an increase of 84 percent across the entire border.
Families and children traveling alone make up more than half of Border Patrol arrests, and agents are seeing more groups of at least 100 people in places like the New Mexico Bootheel and other remote areas.
The recent deaths of two young children in Customs and Border Protection custody led Congress to deliver $192.7 million for medical professionals, supplies such as food, infant formula and diapers, and better transportation between holding facilities.
IMMIGRATION DETENTION BEDS
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will receive money to house an average daily population of 40,520 people, mostly single adults but also families. That’s unchanged from the 2018 budget. The agency often houses more than it is budgeted for. There are currently 48,747 detainees.
Crucially, the bill does not prevent the agency from moving money around in its budget to fund more detention beds, and it does not place a cap on detentions. Initially, Democrats wanted to slash the number of beds, a move that was eventually rejected.
Immigrants in the U.S. illegally can be detained. Those who have violated the terms of their visas can be deported, usually after a criminal conviction. Immigrant detention is at the highest levels ever, as the Trump administration pushes hardline policies.
The agreement provides funding for 100,000 people to get “alternatives to detention,” typically an ankle monitor, while they await court dates. The administration had requested funding for 82,000.
BORDER PATROL HIRING
The spending plan provides no money for additional Border Patrol agents, a rebuke of the administration’s initial request for 750 more agents as part of a multiyear plan to add 5,500.
Border Patrol hiring has come under heavy criticism from lawmakers in both parties.
The administration awarded consulting firm Accenture PLC a contract worth up to $297 million in November 2017 to recruit agents. Accenture is to be paid $40,000 for each hire. The Homeland Security Department’s inspector general said Accenture had recruited only two agents as of Oct. 1.
The pact allows the administration to “sustain the current level of Border Patrol agents.” There were 19,544 agents in January. It also gives $28.6 million for agent recruitment and retention and $28.6 million for recruitment and application processing.
The bill provides for an additional 600 Customs and Border Protection officers, who inspect people and cargo entering the country at airports, land crossings and by sea.
The deal puts Immigration and Customs Enforcement under heavy restrictions if it wants to deport “sponsors” or “potential sponsors” of children who cross the border alone and are taken into government custody.
The agency, with some exceptions, cannot use information provided by the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement to remove someone from the country.
Health and Human Services takes custody of unaccompanied children and almost always releases them to sponsors, about half of whom are parents, 40 percent immediate relatives and 10 percent a distant relative or family friend. Sponsors who are in the U.S. illegally often fear that they will be deported if they provide information to authorities to get the children.