- The Washington Times
Thursday, June 27, 2019

Congress on Thursday approved $4.6 billion in emergency aid to deal with the border crisis, giving President Trump a symbolic victory on immigration and money to improve conditions for migrant children and families crowding the border.

The House voted 305-102 to approve a bill that cleared the Senate a day earlier.

The money will be used to expand shelters for unaccompanied alien children in the custody of the Health and Human Services Department and to provide more space for illegal immigrant families at the border in the custody of the Homeland Security Department.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, entered the day vowing to fight Mr. Trump. She said Democrats wouldn’t agree to any bill that didn’t include strict rules on detention centers. Democrats also wanted to delete money for the Pentagon and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But by the afternoon, after looking at political risks and realities, Mrs. Pelosi put the Senate bill up for a vote.

She was not happy about it.

“We could have done so much better,” she said, vowing that the fight will continue at some point. “It will be the battle cry.”

The debate tore at lawmakers from both parties, particularly after a heartrending photo emerged this week of a man and his 23-month-old daughter lying dead on the banks of the Rio Grande.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, Texas Democrat, organized a moment of silence for all migrants who have died along the border.

Mrs. Pelosi worked all week to maintain unity behind a partisan version of the border funding bill. She told fellow Democrats that this was her “leverage” as she battled Mr. Trump and Senate Republicans.

But too many of her caucus members said the fight was less important than getting money to children as quickly as possible.

“It is an emergency on the border right now. We need to get money to the border as soon as possible,” said Rep. Stephanie N. Murphy, Florida Democrat. “The fastest way for us to get necessary money to the border is to take up the Senate bill.”

In the end, most Democrats agreed. A majority voted for the Senate bill.

Yet her own leadership team was divided.

Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico and Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem S. Jeffries of New York voted against the spending bill.

Mrs. Pelosi did reach a handshake agreement with Vice President Mike Pence in which the administration agreed to notify Congress within 24 hours of a child dying in Homeland Security’s custody and to a 90-day limit for children staying in unlicensed shelters.

But those weren’t part of the legislation, an administration official said.

Liberal Democrats took to Twitter to vent over their impotence.

Some blamed moderates in their own caucus — Rep. Mark Pocan, Wisconsin Democrat, called them “the child abuse caucus” — while others said they were betrayed by Senate Democrats who linked arms with Republicans to craft a bipartisan deal that Mr. Trump would sign.

Senate Dems put us in a terrible position,” tweeted Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat. “Senate bill does absolutely nothing to hold a rogue administration accountable for cruelty.”

For Mrs. Pelosi, the defeat was the biggest since she reclaimed the speaker’s gavel in January.

Republicans cheered the bill’s passage but wondered why it took so long.

“Common sense prevailed over partisanship,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican.

Mr. Trump asked for the money nearly two months ago, but Democrats blocked it from being included in a disaster spending bill this month. Democrats also blocked 18 other Republican attempts to force the bill onto the floor.

Indeed, until recently Democrats refused to call the border situation a crisis. Mrs. Pelosi labeled it a “manufactured” crisis. The latest numbers were making that position tough to hold.

More than 140,000 unauthorized migrants crossed the border in May alone, the highest number in more than a decade, and the number of illegal immigrant children and families set an all-time record.

The crush of people has left conditions in shambles, with reports of children sleeping outside under overpasses and people packed so tightly in cells that some were standing on toilets.

Flu outbreaks struck some of the facilities, and doctors reported fearing of a spate of deaths of young mothers and children.

A court affidavit said the conditions “could be compared to torture facilities.”

Border facilities built to hold a total of 4,000 people were holding nearly five times that many, and HHS lacked bed space to take more illegal immigrant children.

Both Homeland Security and HHS said they would have to shut down some operations without more money, making the situation worse. HHS officials had already begun to curtail legal assistance and sports programs for the migrant children.

The situation is so bad that Border Patrol agents spend half their time babysitting migrants, feeding them, driving them to medical checks or transporting them to release points.

Military troops have taken up some of the slack, and the new bill includes money to keep the troops on the border through the end of this year.

It also includes money for pay and overtime costs for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, money to expand investigations into human trafficking, and $30 million in assistance for states and localities where migrants are being released.

But the vast majority of the money will go to improve conditions.

HHS will get $2.9 billion to expand its bed space, and Customs and Border Protection will get about $900 million for better facilities and more food and hygiene items for migrants at the border.

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