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House Passes $4.5 Billion Emergency Humanitarian Aid Bill to Help Migrant Children in Custody
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26 Jun 2019 03:00 PM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Nita Lowey (Image source: Public domain)

 

 

The House came together on Monday to pass an emergency humanitarian aid bill to help the migrant children in custody after seeing troubling reports of the inhumane conditions they were being kept in. However, while most of the children were transferred out of the poor conditions in a Clint, Texas, Border Patrol station on Monday, half of them were brought back on Tuesday. 

The House voted mostly along party lines, 230-to-195, to pass the emergency bill after last-minute negotiations among the Democrats who were desperate to improve the situation for the migrant children in custody. Yet, now it will be up to the Republican-controlled Senate and Trump to toe the line and pass the bill as it competes with a bipartisan Senate bill.

 

In addition to the horrific conditions these migrant children are said to be kept in, Donald Trump has also been threatening to put a plan in place for mass deportations of undocumented immigrant families. Democrats had concerns about passing a border aid bill that would not address both the children and the deportation threat. 

On Tuesday morning House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) introduced changes to the bill that would require Customs and Border Patrol to set new health and safety standards for detained migrants and protocols for migrant surges within 30 days. It would also limit the stays of children in shelters to no more than 90 days and require the CBP to report to Congress on the use of the shelters.

 

That afternoon she introduced more changes that would prevent the Department Health and Human Services shelter contractor from providing inadequate accommodations, food, personal items, medical care, schooling, leisure activities, and other basic services. 

Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) went to bat for the final revisions and admitted to "tremendous apprehensions" about voting to fund the border response of the Trump administration. Ultimately, she was prepared to vote for it to improve the conditions migrant children are being detained in.

 

"I don't even know how to describe the idea that we have to tell them: you've got to provide food and water to these kids," she explained, "but that's what we're doing." 

The White House has already announced they are opposed to the House Bill, with House Republican leaders saying they were more in favor of a bipartisan bill that passed the Senate Appropriations Committee last week 30-to-1.

 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said Democrats are "playing politics" with border aid and suggested Pelosi should put the bipartisan Senate bill to a vote. 

"Let's send the bipartisan bill from the Senate to the president's desk," he said. "I don't understand what the Democrats are doing here."

 

Republicans aren't 100 percent behind the Senate bill either. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), both members of the House Freedom Caucus, lobbied Trump on Tuesday to ask the Democrats for more concessions on the bipartisan bill. 

"I'm telling him it could be better," said Gohmert of the bill.

 

Meadows said he was not trying to get Trump to oppose the Senate bill. "I'm not a fan of the Senate border bill, and yet at the same time, it's head and shoulders above what we're about to pass here in the House," he said. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) expects quick negotiations between the two chambers once their bills pass. "We've got to get some aid to these poor children. You read about this — it just wrenches your heart."

 

At a private Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) labeled a vote against the House bill as "a vote for Donald Trump and his inhumane, outside-the-circle of civil attitude toward the children." 

"The stronger the vote, the bigger the message to the Senate," said said. "Think about children being in their parents' arms. Think about what our values are as a country and not about each of us."

 

"It's like every bill we pass," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) to reporters after the meeting. "It's not perfect, but it's a good bill, and I think most think it's preferable to the Senate bill, although the Senate bill is not a bad bill either." 

It's apparent Congress needs to do something quickly. A CBP official said on Tuesday that after moving 200 children out of the Clint Border Patrol facility on Monday to transfer them to temporary shelter elsewhere, 100 children were returned to Clint on Tuesday.

 

A spokesman for the CBP later said they were using the Clint facility as a "consolidated" holding facility "to streamline transfer to HHS and to accommodate separate holding areas based on age and gender." 

HHS Secretary Alex Azar said on Monday that the agency has no more room to hold children. This is despite the announcement by federal officials of a plan to open three emergency shelters to house 3,000 to 4,000 migrant children. He said Congress needs to approve the emergency funding so that they can appropriately deal with the situation.

 

"We are full right now. We are full," he said. "We do not have capacity for more of these unaccompanied children who come across the border. And what happens is they get backed up there at the Department of Homeland Security's facilities because I can't put someone in a bed that does not exist in our shelters." 

Later, he amended his statement to say the children shelters are "probably in the upper 90 percentage of being full."

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