Democrats Lose on Detention Beds as Trump Mulls Options on Border Deal

Shenidegabier Rodriguez Iliaz, from Honduras, holds his two-year-old daughter Ixamar after their release from federal detention, where they were processed after crossing the U.S. border, in McAllen, Texas, April 4, 2018. Immigrants crossing illegally and scooped up by Border Patrol agents, after being detained for a few days, are given a court date and an ankle-bracelet monitoring device, and then led by volunteers to the nearby relief center. (Ilana Panich-Linsman/The New York Times)

Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman

c.2019 New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON — The bipartisan border security compromise struck Monday includes a provision that could give the Trump administration broad discretion to increase the number of slots to shelter detained migrants, a win for Republicans that could ease the sting of President Donald Trump’s failure to secure full funding for his border wall.

Details of the agreement dribbled out as lawmakers waited to see if Trump would support the compromise — and if he would follow through on his threat to declare a national emergency to allocate new funding for a wall to supplement the $1.375 billion allocated for new fencing in the deal, far short of the $5.7 billion he wanted

On its face, Monday’s agreement, which still requires passage and approval by the president, authorizes Immigration and Customs Enforcement to fund about 40,000 detention “beds,” many of them in facilities run by nonprofit organizations near the border in Texas, Arizona and California.

In background briefings on the deal, House Democratic aides described the language as a “glide path” from the current level of 49,000 detention beds back down to Obama-era levels of 35,000 or lower.

But a summary of the provisions drafted by Republican staffers on the Senate Appropriations Committee presents a different picture, and one that could be a victory for the White House in an otherwise drab and wall-free deal. The document, provided by an aide to a senator who was reviewing the compromise, places the average number of beds funded under the deal at a much high number — 45,274, including 2,500 slots for families.

And that number could rise to as many as 58,500 beds, Republican aides claimed in their internal communications.

Democrats downplayed the Republican notion that the deal gave too much leeway to the Department of Homeland Security to move funding around to expand detention facilities.

“The only way the Trump administration will be able to ratchet up the number of detention beds is if they choose to steal funding that Congress has directed to other DHS components for important Homeland Security activities,” said Evan Hollander, a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee chairwoman, Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y.

By midmorning, Trump was said to be weighing his options about how to proceed with the deal.