While Trump rants incoherently on Twitter about walls and caravans, the conferees were sane and somewhat conciliatory in their first meeting, probably the only one that will occur publicly. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) said that “We are appropriators, and consistent with the proud tradition of our committees, I am confident that we will be able to reach a compromise,” while her counterpart Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) offered “As long as we remain polarized, we will never resolve our differences on this critical issue that we owe to the American people.”
Reporter Susan Davis got the memo outlining the Democrats’ initial offer (transcript below). Lowey says they are willing to discuss funding more than the $1.6 billion previously appropriated for border security, but it’s not going to a wall. Her team is proposing to hire 1,000 new Customs officers; provide new technology and equipment to scan vehicles crossing the borders and international mail that might contain opioids; increase Border Patrol’s air and marine operations; and fund necessary repair work at ports of entry.
That funding increase will have to include measures to answer “the only real crisis at the border,” the humanitarian one. They want to change the CBP and ICE focus from detention to assistance with fewer detention beds and more help to families, while still funding the law enforcement side to ” to focus on drug smuggling, gang crimes, financial crimes, and other high priority law enforcement areas.”
None of this could be reasonably opposed by Republicans, which makes it a smart starting point for Democrats. It answers public concerns for security as well as the very real humanitarian needs of the asylum seekers and refugees. But being reasonable can’t get very far with Trump. It’s going to be back on Mitch McConnell, again, to stand up to him and avert the next disaster.
DEMOCRATS SUPPORT SMART, EFFECTIVE BORDER SECURITY
Within the limited funding available in the Department of Homeland Security bill, we will fight for balanced investments across the Department’s mission areas. We will push for a smart, effective border security posture, one that does not rely on costly physical barriers. House Democrats proposal funds:
- 1,000 new Customs officers
- New imaging technology at the land ports of entry to ensure all vehicles are scanned before entering the country for drugs and other contraband
- New equipment at mail processing facilities to interdict fentanyl and other opioids shipped through the international mail
- New cutting edge technology along the borders to improve situational awareness
- An expansion of CBP’s air and marine operations along the border and in U.S. waters
- An expansion of risk-based targeting of passengers and cargo entering the United States, and
- Critical repair projects at ports of entry
Our proposal at conference negotiations also:
- Addresses the only real crisis at the border—which is not a border security crisis but a humanitarian one—by improving CBP’s capacity to appropriately meet the needs of migrants who are temporarily in their custody
- Supports the hiring of new Homeland Security Investigations agents to focus on drug smuggling, gang crimes, financial crimes, and other high priority law enforcement areas
- Expands ICE’s Alternatives to Detention program, including family case management
- Significantly reduces ICE detention beds, requires more frequent detention facility inspections, and limits ICE’s ability to use more detention beds than Congress intends to fun.
In addition, our proposal supports many other important Homeland Security priorities, which we will not have the funding to address if the President insists we set aside $5.7 billion for border barriers. These include, for example:
- Targeted increases in FEMA preparedness grant programs
- Support for the Coast Guard’s personnel and air and marine fleets, including new polar icebreaker
- Investments in TSA’s ability to detect threats at security checkpoints without slowing air travel