The Trump administration is asking Congress for nearly $18 billion to construct more than 700 miles of new and replacement barriers along the Southwest border, its most detailed description yet of the president’s vision of a wall separating the U.S. from Mexico.
The request would be a major expansion from the 654 miles of barrier now, bringing the total to nearly 1,000 miles—about half of the entire Southwest border.
The border wall, President Donald Trump signature campaign promise, has become entangled with negotiations over the fate of young, undocumented immigrants and talks to avert a government shutdown. The wall request, which drew strong opposition from Democrats, and other White House demands threaten to make those negotiations even more fraught than they already are.
The plans are laid out in a document prepared by the Department of Homeland Security at the request of a group of senators. The senators’ goal was to find out what the administration wants lawmakers to include in a package providing for the legalization of the young, unauthorized immigrants known as Dreamers.
DHS made clear Friday that the administration also wants a sweeping set of immigration-enforcement and other policy changes that the White House detailed in October. In a letter to Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), the agency reiterated that these priorities “must be included as part of any legislation” addressing Dreamers.
Among other measures, Mr. Trump wants new curbs on people sponsoring relatives for immigration, which Republican critics call “chain migration,” and an end to the diversity-visa lottery, a path available to people from countries underrepresented in U.S. immigration.
The DHS document also details other conservative priorities, such as changes to the asylum system and mandatory use of the e-Verify system for businesses to check the employment status of prospective employees. In addition, the document lays out some $33 billion in desired new border security spending over 10 years, including for technology, personnel and roads
Mr. Durbin said on Friday that bipartisan spending negotiations continue in the Senate, but that the White House was undermining that work and courting a possible government shutdown if an agreement cannot be reached before funding runs out later this month. A spending bill will need bipartisan support to pass the Senate, and Democrats could balk if there is no deal on Dreamers.
“It’s outrageous that the White House would undercut months of bipartisan efforts by again trying to put its entire wish list of hard-line anti-immigrant bills—plus an additional $18 billion in wall funding—on the backs of these young people,” Mr. Durbin said on Friday.
It wasn’t clear whether the administration would insist on all of those changes or the full wall money in order to approve a Dreamer deal. But the communications to Congress, combined with Mr. Trump’s tough rhetoric at the White House this week, are raising expectations among conservatives, which might make it harder for Republicans to compromise.
Mr. Trump campaigned on a promise to build a “big, beautiful wall” on the border to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking, and promised Mexico would pay for it. Congress hasn’t agreed to spend any money on the project, and Mexico has repeatedly said it won’t.
The border document, from the Customs and Border Protection agency at DHS, envisions the wall project unfolding over 10 years. If carried out as described, by 2027, about 970 miles of the 2,000-mile Southwest border would have some sort of fencing or wall separating the U.S. from Mexico.
Reaction was swift from other Democrats on Capitol Hill beyond Mr. Durbin.
A Senate Democratic leadership aide said the plan goes far beyond what lawmakers in both parties have discussed and “is obviously not a serious proposal.”
Democrats have said that they are willing to back new border-security measures aside from a wall.
The non-wall border requests laid out by DHS include $5.7 billion over five years for towers, surveillance equipment, unmanned aerial vehicles and other technology; $1 billion over five years for road construction and maintenance; and $8.5 billion over seven years for 5,000 new Border Patrol agents and other personnel.
The administration has already requested $1.6 billion for 60 miles of a new barrier in Texas and 14 miles of replacement fencing in San Diego for the current fiscal year. Congress hasn’t passed spending bills for 2018, and wall funding is one of the hang-ups.
The administration’s new document doesn’t detail where the additional miles of barrier would be constructed beyond 2018. It refers to the barrier as a “wall system,” though officials including Mr. Trump have at times said it might look more like a fence or a “see-through wall.”
The total cost for the barriers would be $9.3 billion over the first five years and $8.7 billion over the next five years, the document said. The document hasn’t been publicly released but was viewed by The Wall Street Journal. That includes a combination of new barriers and replacement fencing.
The George W. Bush administration, which constructed much of the existing fencing, was stymied in its efforts to build additional miles for a range of reasons, including resistance from private landowners in Texas, where most of the unfenced land sits.