Lawmakers Seek to Break Immigration Impasse

Democrats release opening offer as wall appears to remain a sticking point

WASHINGTON—Negotiations over border security began Wednesday, as House Democrats unveiled an opening offer and signaled flexibility in coming talks even as the idea of President Trump’s desired border wall appeared to remain a sticking point between the parties.

With less than three weeks for lawmakers to negotiate, House Democrats proposed a tightening of security along the border with investments in technology and staffing, but no new physical barriers, which Mr. Trump has said he requires in order to avoid another partial government shutdown. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D., N.Y.) indicated she was keeping options open for striking a compromise before current government funding expires on Feb. 15.

“Everything is on the table,” she told reporters after the first meeting of the 17 lawmakers tasked with forging a deal. Democrats declined to specify how much their proposal would cost, but last week they had discussed proposing more than $5 billion in border-security funding.

The bipartisan and bicameral committee in the next few weeks must strike a deal on Homeland Security Department funding and Mr. Trump must sign it, or 800,000 federal employees who just returned to their offices could face new furloughs or the prospect of working again without pay.

The group, which was appointed by party leadership, focused on the meaning of a wall or a physical barrier. Mr. Trump has since moved away from his desire for a concrete wall along the full length of the border and has said he would be open to steel slats, a form of fencing that is already used.

Late last week, Mr. Trump agreed to reopen the government even without new funding for a wall, setting up the new three-week deadline and congressional panel.

Mrs. Lowey, who is leading the panel, said she would support an increase in aircraft on the border and improved equipment at ports of entry to scan cars for drugs, but she dismissed a need for a lengthy wall.

“Smart border security is not overly reliant on physical barriers, which the Trump administration has failed to demonstrate are cost-effective compared to better technology and more personnel,” Mrs. Lowey said in opening statements.

The task at hand involves spending bills that cover nine major federal agencies, including the Transportation and Justice Departments. But the president’s demand for $5.7 billion toward a barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border—which led to the 35-day shutdown—complicates the negotiations.

ByNatalie Andrews and Kristina Peterson for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

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