U.S. House approves $4.5B border aid package




Construction continues on a new section of barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border on Jan. 8, 2019, as seen from Tijuana, Mexico. President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency because Congress did not approve of $5.7 billion in funding to build a border wall. Photo by Mario Tama | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives passed a $4.5 billion package late Tuesday to spend on humanitarian aid at the U.S.-Mexico border, though Senate Republicans and President Donald Trump have already voiced their opposition to the Democratic measure. 

The bill passed by a vote of 230-195, largely along party lines, with the majority Democrats mostly supporting the legislation. All five Democratic members of Arizona’s House delegation voted for the bill, while all four Republicans in the delegation voted against it.

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 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 overcrowding 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.”

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. 

“If this bill were to become law, our agents on the front lines would further have their hands tied in trying to bring our southern border under control,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said of the House legislation. “This bill does nothing to secure our border, address the massive influx of illegal aliens, or close the asylum loopholes that are being exploited by criminal cartels.”

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 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. … We need to stop funding the detention of children under any and all circumstances.”

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