With almost every single Democrat supporting and almost every single Republican opposing, the House of Representatives passed a funding bill to address the refugee and humanitarian crisis at the border last night on a vote of 230-195. [The Republican- controlled Senate seems poised to reject this bill in a vote today.] The House-passed bill comes at a critical time — Health and Human Services is on the verge of running out of money to care for migrant children in their custody and conditions in detention facilities are going from bad to deplorable and inhumane. Given these extremely troubling conditions, what exactly was in this bill that Republicans overwhelmingly voted against and the President has threatened to veto? The simple answer — basic humanitarian protections for children and families, an attempt to get back to addressing the root causes of this crisis, and smart and effective alternatives to dangerous and inhumane detention conditions, but not more of the same failed and inhumane, detention- and deterrence-only approach to the on-going refugee and humanitarian crisis.
Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch and former USCIS Chief Counsel, said: “Yesterday’s vote came at the same time we learned that ‘kids are taking care of kids, and there’s inadequate food, water, and sanitation for 250 infants, children and teens’ at an El Paso border facility. The vote also happened just after the shocking revelation of a father and his 23-month-old daughter drowned reaching for opportunity and a better life in the U.S. And this vote happened after two years and nine separate reports by the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security describing horrific conditions in immigration detention that never seem to end. So, it begs the question, why would Republicans in the House, and the President, oppose a bill that would help to address these horrific conditions? Based upon the Republican’s ‘motion to recommit’ and the President’s veto threat, it seems they only want more of the same failed and cruel strategy of even more detention, even in light of the daily revelation of deplorable conditions in detention for families, children and adults, deaths of children in federal custody, and deaths of people simply seeking safety and a better life.”
David Leopold, Counsel to DHS Watch, Chair of Immigration at Ulmer & Berne and former President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said: “The devastating image of a father and his toddler daughter lying dead, face down on the U.S. shore of the Rio Grande will forever serve as a gastly symbol of Trump’s brutal assault on children and families looking to America as a beacon of safety and freedom. We must all ask ourselves, what kind of America do we want to be? Do we want to be a welcoming nation that opens its arms to those in need of safe haven and looks to solve difficult problems or do we want to turn our backs families and children and perpetrate cruel, chaotic and failed policies? Yesterday House Democrats, in a loud and clear voice, reminded us that America protects children and families seeking safe haven and offers solutions, not barriers. Sadly, the House Republicans voted for more of the same Trump induced failure and chaos at the border.”
The following is a summary of just some of the important provisions in the House bill:
Funding for basic humanitarian needs
- In addition to more funding to address over-crowded border facilities, over $100 million for food, water, sanitary items, blankets, other consumable items, and medical support.
- Funding to address critical shortages of resources and space for unaccompanied children.
- A pilot program to humanely process asylum seekers.
Ensuring children are held in safe and humane facilities with appropriate care
- New requirement that children cannot be kept in unlicensed facilities for more than 90 days unless the Health and Human Services “Secretary determines there is insufficient state-licensed facilities.”
- Requires the Department of Homeland Security to establish standards and protocols for border facilities “that adhere to the best practices for the care of children” and “in compliance with…recommendations…of the American Academy of Pediatrics.”
- Standards and protocols must include consideration for surges in arrivals of children at the border and must account for medical issues and the “provision of water, appropriate nutrition, hygiene, and sanitation needs.”
Ensuring that DHS can appropriately communicate with migrants
- Requires the Department of Homeland Security to submit a plan to ensure access to translation services so that they may effectively communicate with migrants they encounter.
Ensuring efficiency and awareness of asylum process
- Funding for more immigration judges to process growing numbers of asylum applications.
- Funding for the legal access programs and legal services which not only help inform asylum seekers of the process, but also promotes efficiency in the court process.
Funding smart, effective, and humane alternatives to traditional detention
- With severe overcrowding, this bill funds the simple solution of releasing low-risk, vulnerable populations from traditional detention and into alternatives to detention programs.
Addressing root causes
- According to the House Appropriations Committee, “the supplemental forces the Trump administration to spend funds previously appropriated to the Northern Triangle countries to promote stability.”