By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
After two weeks of heated negotiations and multiple stalls, negotiators in Congress appear to have reached a potential deal that would avoid another partial federal government shutdown on Feb. 15.
According to CNN, the details of this tentative agreement include $1.375 billion for border fencing and about 40,520 beds for housing border detainees. Both represent significant compromises for Republicans and Democrats, and President Trump has stated he is not happy about the deal. This is likely because the dollar figure would allow for the construction of only 55 additional miles of border fencing instead of the 234 miles he asked for.
Financial Justification for Border Wall
Part of the reason that Democrats were so low to provide the full $5.7 billion Trump had requested for border fencing is that the White House never provided financial justification for the expenditure. Details were never provided with regards to exactly where the 234 miles of fence would be placed, how and by whom it would be constructed, and exactly how the money would be spent on fence construction and maintenance. In contrast, the current agreement stipulates that the new fencing cannot be made of concrete, and while the existing bollard-style fencing is expected, steel slats are still an available option.
According to McClatchy, Republicans are trying to make the deal sound sweeter by pointing out that the deal would allow the administration to build twice as much new fencing than was funded in last year’s budget. Also, all of the new 55 miles of fence construction and would be built along the Rio Grande Valley sector, which Border Patrol says is the highest priority on its strategic plan.
This sector in South Texas has historically been the trickiest for border fence construction. Unlike other parts of the U.S.-Mexico border, the international demarcation isn’t a straight line. The separation between the two countries is marked by the Rio Grande, which is a squiggly line that runs for hundreds of miles. Due to the topography of the area, the border fence has to be built on top of an elevated levy, which in some cases is as far as one mile north of the borderline. Many U.S. citizens have found their homes and property in this no man’s land between the Mexican border and the border fence.
Border Land Is Private Property
The existing border barrier in South Texas is also not one contiguous structure, but rather smaller sections of fencing that are spaced apart. Part of the reasoning behind this is strategic placement in response to traffic levels, and other parts are due to funding and topographic limitations. Much of the land required for border fence expansion in Texas is private property, and acquiring this land, either through eminent domain or outright purchase by the Department of Homeland Security, has been challenging and time-consuming.
If and when the proposed deal makes it to President Trump’s desk, there’s still no guarantee he will sign it. During a cabinet meeting on Feb. 12, he said he would be “adding things to it,” but one of the Republican negotiators said he wasn’t sure what Trump meant by this, and that he wouldn’t be able to do that. Trump is also aware that by accepting the bipartisan deal, he would still be able to declare national emergency to obtain additional funding for border fencing, although he is also aware this will likely be challenged in court.