From both the domestic and international perspectives, Tuesday’s initiative by the Democrats and Republicans will avert yet another shutdown of Donald Trump’s America. This is the chief import of the agreement that allocates $1.4 billion to border security, far less than the $5.7 billion demanded by the President for the construction of a wall to ward off immigrants on the Mexican border. By any reckoning, Congress has won the first round. More than the design of the wall and border security in the wider canvas, it was the overriding anxiety, cutting across the Democrat-Republican divide, that turned out to be the compelling factor. The funding allows for the construction of 55 miles of new fencing, built through existing designs, instead of the 215-mile concrete wall that was demanded by Trump in December. Talks had fizzled out only last Sunday reportedly over disagreement about the maximum number of undocumented immigrants who might be detained at any one time. The paradox of the shutdown, which has stretched to beyond two months, must be that government departments that are not connected with the immigration policy have been severely affected. As it turns out, Trump’s demand for funding for a border wall has put border security at the centre of the negotiations to keep the government open. Verily has it reduced governance to an open-and-shut entity, not to ignore the denial of paycheques to hundreds of thousands. Democrats have consistently been opposed to funding for a border wall, asserting that pressure from undocumented immigrants is a “made-up emergency” and that money for border security would be better utilised to finance additional technology, personnel and other enforcement measures. Staggering has been the impact of the shutdown since December. It has cost the economy $11 billion and reduced growth forecasts by almost half a percentage point.
One major issue of discord was the refusal of the Republicans to accept a cap on the number of undocumented immigrants who might be held in detention centres run by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice). Democrats claim that the absence of such a cap, pegged at 16,500 detainees, could be exploited by the Trump administration to round up an indeterminate number of migrants. While the deal has resolved the crippling closure, the tussle over Trump’s proposed wall persists. The President had given Congress a time-frame ~ till 15 February ~ to sanction the “wall money” or face another shutdown. Congress has been remarkably tight-fisted; the fund that has been sanctioned cannot but cause another loss of face for the ebullient President. The patchwork quilt will now hopefully keep the government open.