U.S. House Approves $4.5B Border Aid Package

    The U.S. House passed a $4.5 billion package late Tuesday to spend on humanitarian aid at the U.S.-Mexico border.

    The bill passed by a vote of 230-195, largely along party lines. The measure lays out new health and safety conditions for children kept in federal custody and additional mechanisms for Congress to oversee the detention operations.

    House Democrats pushed the legislation amid reports of severe overcrowding and a failure to provide immigrants with basic necessities at detention centers along the southern U.S. border, while stressing that the aid would not go toward assisting President Trump’s immigration policies.

    “The president’s failed policies have exacerbated the situation at the border, where vulnerable children endure inhumane conditions that threaten their health, well-being and sometimes, tragically, their lives,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said this week.

    “This legislation provides urgently-needed humanitarian assistance for families, including funding for food, shelter, clothing, medical care and legal assistance, and will relieve the horrific situation of over-crowding and help prevent additional deaths. And we are providing urgent assistance to local communities to help defray their costs of providing humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers.”

    House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) urged the Senate to take up the legislation immediately.

    “We must meet our responsibility to ensure the humane treatment of children and families in U.S. custody, and this legislation further strengthens protections for those individuals and increases accountability,” he said in a statement Tuesday night.

    But the White House and many Republicans oppose the Democrats’ measure, setting the stage for tense negotiations in the coming days as Congress prepares to leave town for the Fourth of July recess.

    “H.R. 3401 is a partisan attempt to hide the fact that the liberal majority in the House of Representatives is so blinded by anti-Trump fervor that they completely failed to address the real and growing humanitarian crisis at the border – and children have suffered the consequences,” Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R-Md.) said in a statement Tuesday night.

    The Trump administration requested $4.5 billion in emergency border funding last month as officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warned that the agency could run out of funds to care for unaccompanied migrant children in June.

    “The president’s request would better provide resources to help respond to the flow of women and children across our southern border, and the failure of liberals in the House has been exposed,” Harris said.

    The Senate is expected to take up its own version of the aid bill this week. A Senate committee voted last week to approve its own bipartisan version of the bill.

    Notably, the Washington Post reported, the Senate legislation doesn’t contain all of the House Democrats’ stipulations aimed at ensuring the humane treatment of children in U.S. custody. The Senate bill includes $50 million more than the House version for immigration judges to speed up adjudication of asylum claims, and $61 million in back pay for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

    Three House Republicans sided with Democrats to back the measure: Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania; Will Hurd of Texas; and Chris Smith of New Jersey.

    Four progressive freshman Democrats voted against the House legislation: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

    Ocasio-Cortez said earlier this week she was opposed to providing billions of dollars in funding to detain unaccompanied migrant children who had been detained at the border.

    Referring to reports about the appalling conditions at the facilities, she told the Washington Post, “That’s not due to a lack of resources; that’s due to a desire — an active desire by this administration to hurt kids,” she said. “We need to stop funding the detention of children under any and all circumstances.”

    Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) has sponsored legislation, the Alternatives to Detention Act of 2019, that would create a presumption in favor of the use of alternatives to detention for asylum seekers, migrant children and families, and other vulnerable groups.

    “The best way to keep children out of deplorable detention conditions is to not detain them in the first place,” Brown said on Twitter Tuesday.

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