U.S. House Dems relent, chamber sends McConnell-backed border aid bill to Trump

By: - June 27, 2019 3:55 pm

More than 20 migrant families from Central America were dropped off at a Phoenix church by in a Department of Homeland Security bus the night of Tuesday, October 9. Overwhelmed by the surge of migrant families coming to Arizona’s border, immigration officials are relying on community groups to help accommodate the families and make travel arrangements in the U.S. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

WASHINGTON — A $4.6 billion humanitarian aid package for the southern U.S. border is poised to be enacted after top U.S. House Democrats reluctantly helped pass a version of the legislation adopted by the U.S. Senate. 

The House vote on Thursday followed a week of tense negotiations over the aid funding, which federal immigration officials say is urgently needed to provide care and shelter to migrants who are being housed in overcrowded detention centers along the border. The aid bill became ensnared by the divisive battle over President Trump’s immigration policies. 

The House passed its own package earlier this week with stricter health and safety protections for migrants and more congressional oversight requirements. 

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made it clear that was a nonstarter in the upper chamber of Congress, and the Senate passed its own version of the legislation with broad bipartisan support on Wednesday. He called the Senate version the “only game in town.” 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stressed on the House floor Thursday that it wasn’t the bill she wanted. The Senate’s version passed the House by a vote of 305-102, with 176 Republicans supporting the bill and only 129 Democrats. Three Arizona Democrats supported the measure — Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, Tom O’Halleran and Greg Stanton — while liberal firebrand Reps. Ruben Gallego and Raúl Grijalva opposed it. Among the Arizona Republicans, Reps. Debbie Lesko and David Schweikert voted for the bill, while Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar voted against it.

“We could have done so much better, so much better than what we are faced with today,” Pelosi said. She said she was “gravely disappointed in the actions taken by the Senate,” where leaders refused to compromise to move that bill closer to the measure passed in the House. 

With funding drying up and members of Congress about to head back to their districts for the July Fourth recess, Pelosi said she relented to ensure that agencies had resources available. “It will not be the end of this debate,” she said. 

The legislation that has now cleared both chambers of Congress includes more than $1 billion to shelter and feed detained migrants and nearly $3 billion to care for unaccompanied migrant children, the Associated Press reported

The measure also includes funding opposed by some House Democrats that would go toward Department of Defense military expenses, funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and overtime payments for Customs and Border Protection employees, according to the Texas Tribune. 

Vice President Mike Pence reportedly assured Pelosi privately that the administration would voluntarily agree to some of the restrictions she wanted — like a 24-hour notification to Congress after the death of a child in U.S. custody.

The legislation will now head to the White House, where Trump is expected to sign it into law.

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.