In the immortal words of John Hurt, parodying his Alien role in Spaceballs: “Oh no … not again!” The odds of another shutdown increased markedly over the weekend, but this time the issue isn’t border-wall funding. Democrats want a cap on how many illegal immigrants can be detained at once, a demand on which the White House refuses to bend:
The latest dispute centers on a Democratic demand to cap the number of detention beds available for undocumented immigrants arrested when they are already inside the U.S., as opposed to those arrested when trying to cross the border.
Democrats are seeking a cap of 16,500 beds for those arrested inside the country. Republicans have refused to make a counteroffer to the Democrats’ most recent border security proposal until that demand is dropped, according to a Democratic aide. “So we are not talking right now,” the aide said.
The Democratic aide said 16,500 is the level of such arrests from the last three months of President Barack Obama’s administration. By contrast, the comparable level for the Trump administration as of Feb. 4 was 20,700, according to the aide, about 25 percent more than in late 2016.
“A cap on ICE detention beds will force the Trump administration to prioritize deportation for criminals and people who pose real security threats, not law-abiding immigrants who are contributing to our country,” House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., said in a statement Sunday.
In other words, Democrats don’t want law enforcement to enforce the law equally? Let’s extend this thinking to policing in general. Should we not arrest some other criminals and prosecute them for actual crimes because of crowded jails and prisons — or should we expand our capacity for enforcing the law? Or do Democrats want to argue that we treat Americans worse than people who enter the country illegally?
Apparently they do. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told Fox News Sunday that there doesn’t appear to be a way out of this new confrontation, while the Washington Post notes that the border wall is now a “secondary” issue:
WALLACE: Yes. Senator Shelby, I hope you heard Chief of Staff Mulvaney just before you say that apparently an issue has come up and at the talks are in jeopardy. Tell me what that is.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY, R-ALA.: I think the talks are stalled right now. I’m hoping we can get off the dime later today or in the morning because time is ticking away. But we got some problems with the Democrats dealing with ICE, that is detaining criminals that come into the U.S. and they want a cap on them, we don’t want a cap on that.
We haven’t, as Jon Tester said, we haven’t reached a number on the barrier yet, but we’re working and we’re hoping we can get there. But we’ve got to get fluid again. We got to start movement.
WALLACE: I’m going to get to Senator Tester and this idea that the talks are stalled. But on this question of the number, you met with President Trump on Thursday and you came out and said that you were more optimistic than you have been. If — for the sake of this argument, for the sake of this discussion, if the number is $2 billion, substantially less than the $5.7 billion, did the president give you any assurance that he’s willing to go along with that number to avoid another government shutdown?
SHELBY: Well, the president — our talks with the president are confidential, but I came out of the meeting thinking we could make a deal with the Democrats if they are willing to meet us halfway. Secondly, the president basically in the conversation gave us some latitude to talk and that’s what we’re trying to do to get to yes today.
Chris Wallace pressed Jon Tester (D-MT) on the detention-bed issue, on which Tester appeared to retreat a bit:
WALLACE: Why would you want to limit the number of detention beds if the idea is you want to detain them rather than catch and release them and then they emerge into the country?
TESTER: I can tell you — until we get a final number, I’m not sure we are doing any of that.
WALLACE: But on principle, why would you want —
TESTER: We’ve got to come to a final number and it’s a negotiated process. I think what everybody wants, including the people I serve with on both sides of the aisle, they want to make sure that southern border is secure, there’s many ways to do that — whether it’s detention, whether it’s technology, whether it’s a barrier. And I think that we’ll come up — we can’t do everything all at once by the way. We have to prioritize and move forward. And I think this committee is fully capable of prioritizing expenditures and hopefully will get something the House — that the House can pass, the Senate can pass and the president will sign.
If we go into another shutdown over Democrats’ demands to return to catch-and-release, it’s not going to go nearly as well for Nancy Pelosi the second time around. Americans might be diffident about a border wall, but they don’t want the laws flouted, which is exactly what happens now. Democrats have understood that much this far, promising better border security through “technology” and more personnel rather than the supposedly medieval border wall Donald Trump wants — and CBP keeps requesting. But if their idea of enforcement is to artificially cap the number of arrests that can be made, Trump and his fellow Republicans will easily lay the blame for another shutdown at their feet.
In fact, that process has already started:
The Democrats do not want us to detain, or send back, criminal aliens! This is a brand new demand. Crazy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2019
WE HEAR that the Democratic House is considering passing a several-week stopgap spending bill for DHS, along with a minibus with the rest of the outstanding spending bills. The DHS bill will include their desired restrictions on the border wall and on detention beds.
EXPECT the White House to become more vocal in the next few days. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP is going to El Paso, Texas, tonight for a rally. Last night we got a call from the administration, promising an on-the-record statement about the status of the talks. The statement never came, but the itchiness to get in the game seemed to be real.
This will not end well for Democrats, especially those who just won first terms in suburban districts. They may not have liked the excessive demonization of illegal immigrants in the run-up to the midterms, but they’re not going to like a return to catch-and-release either.