- The conference committee tasked with developing a border-security package to avert another government shutdown held its first hearing on Wednesday.
- House Democrats released their initial proposal, which did not include funding for a physical barrier along the US-Mexico border.
- Rep. Nita Lowey, the House Democrat chairing the conference committee, said “everything’s on the table.”
WASHINGTON – The conference committee created to put together a border-security package by February 15 held their first hearing on Wednesday. House Democrats on the bipartisan, bicameral committee also unveiled their early proposal for what they want out of the negotiations.
The Democrats’ proposal addresses a number of areas regarding border security, but it does not include funding for any physical barrier along the US border with Mexico, which President Donald Trump has repeatedly made clear is a necessity in order for him to sign any funding legislation.
A summary of the Democrats’ plan shows they want to substantially beef up security and infrastructure at ports of entry, as well as provide modernised resources to agents patrolling the border on land and in US waters. The proposal includes:
- 1,000 new US Customs officers.
- New imaging technology at land ports of entry to scan for drugs, weapons, and contraband.
- Increased resources and technology at mail-processing facilities to intercept opioids and fentanyl.
- Increased technology on the border “to improve situational awareness.”
- Expansion of Air and Marine Operations on the border and in US waters for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
- Repair projects at ports of entry.
- Expansion of risk-based targeting of passengers and cargo entering the US.
The proposal also asks for the bolstering of CBP’s resources in handling detained migrants apprehended at the border. A summary of the proposal distributed by House Democrats refers to the treatment of migrants while in US custody as “the only real crisis at the border – which is not a border security crisis but a humanitarian one.”
Regarding funding for physical barriers on the border, the House Democrats’ proposal said the $US5.7 billion requested for a wall by the Trump administration would sap money from what they say are other crucial priorities, including:
- Increases in Federal Emergency Management Agency preparedness grants.
- Coast Guard support and funds for a new polar icebreaker.
- Investments in resources for the TSA at airports.
While funding for a physical barrier is not in the House Democrats’ proposal, it is still an option as negotiations progress.
Democrats have been coy about whether they would be willing to stomach any wall funding after the shutdown ended last week, but New York Rep. Nita Lowey, who is serving as the chair of the conference committee in the House, said after the hearing that “everything’s on the table.”
Any agreement between Democrats and Republicans will have to be reached by February 15 when the short-term funding bill – called a continuing resolution – expires, otherwise the government could shut down again.