Washington: Democratic and Republican negotiators have agreed to finance construction of new barriers along the US-Mexico border as part of a deal to avoid another government shutdown.
The tentative agreement allocates nearly $1.4bn to border security, far less than the $5.7bn demanded by Donald Trump.
It allows for the construction of 55 miles of new fencing, built through existing designs such as metal slats, instead of the 215-mile concrete wall demanded by Trump in December.
The deal still needs to be approved by Congress and signed by the president. At a rally in El Paso, Texas, on Monday night, Trump said he had been informed about the committee’s progress, telling the crowd: “Just so you know, we’re building the wall anyway.”
Negotiators have been trying to reach a deal to fund nine government departments that partially closed for 35 days in December and January.
Trump and congressional Democrats agreed on 25 January to temporarily fund the departments and negotiate a funding solution by 8 February.
Talks most recently broke down on Sunday, reportedly over a disagreement about the maximum number of undocumented immigrants who might be detained at any one time.
While most of the government departments involved in the shutdown are not tied to immigration policy, Trump’s demand for funding for a border wall has put border security at the centre of the negotiations to keep the government open.
The most recent shutdown – the longest in US history – began in mid-December, when Trump rejected a spending package approved by congressional Republicans and demanded $5.7bn to construct a wall on the US-Mexico border.
Democrats have opposed funding for a border wall, saying that pressure from undocumented immigrants is a made-up emergency and that money for border security would be better dedicated to additional technology, personnel and other enforcement measures.
The shutdown cost the economy $11bn and reduced growth forecasts by almost half a percentage point, the congressional budget office estimated.
Since then, Trump has not abandoned his demand for a border wall. At the president’s Texas rally giant banners inside the rally venue, the El Paso County Coliseum, read: “Finish the wall.”
The negotiators at work in Washington on Monday included four Democrats and four Republicans. They are a cut-out of a larger group of 17 members of Congress assigned to seek a deal after the historic shutdown ended on 25 January.
Congressional sources said that one sticking point in negotiations was the Republicans’ refusal to accept a cap on the number of undocumented immigrants who might be held in detention centres run by the Immigration and Naturalization Services.
Democrats say that an absence of such a cap, pegged at 16,500 detainees, could be exploited by the Trump administration to round up an indefinite number of detainees.