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POLICE/PRISON

House and Senate Pass Billion Dollar Border Aid Bills, But Standoff Ensues

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

“We cannot continue to throw money at a dysfunctional system.”

Both chambers of Congress passed legislation to provide billions in aid for the growing border crisis, but House Democrats are concerned the Senate-passed version does not do enough to guarantee protections for migrant families and children.

House leadership sought to negotiate with Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday, in what is turning into a high-stakes standoff amidst rapidly depleting funds and growing public awareness of inhumane conditions at migrant detention facilities.

“For the children, we must ensure accountability and transparency so we can know the truth: requiring that any death of a child be reported within 24 hours, that there be no advance notice required for a member of Congress to visit a facility and that funding can only be used for the purposes specifically described in the bill,” House Speaker Pelosi said in a statement, detailing some of the provisions the House version of the bill would require.“

The White House has signaled it would veto the House version, and has shown only lukewarm acceptance of the Senate bill. Both versions prohibit aid funds from being spent on a border wall.

Democrats are seeking to require medical and sanitation standards, a 90-day limit on the time unaccompanied minors can be kept in temporary border shelters, the restoration of foreign aid cuts to Central America and a requirement for the death of a child in detention to be reported within 24 hours.

“It’s a go-nowhere proposal filled with poison-pill riders which the president has indicated he would veto,” McConnell said. The Senate rejected the House bill by a 57-37 vote, before passing a version with less strict requirements 84-8. The Senate version also allocates funding for the Pentagon and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which House Democrats reject.

The impasse represents a dispute over the nature of the crisis. Some argue it is merely a resource problem that could be solved with increased funding, while others view it as the result of deliberate cruelty and neglect from the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance agenda. Progressive lawmakers argue the recent watchdog reports of grotesque conditions at migrant facilities prove more oversight is needed alongside public funding.

“We cannot continue to throw money at a dysfunctional system,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) said. “We are not just asking for simple changes to be made into this bill, but to go back to the drawing board and really address this from a humanitarian issue.”

With the House set for July 4th recess to begin on Thursday, Democrats have only a small window to negotiate. The urgency of the situation and the White House’s support for the Senate-led measure appear to give House Democrats the weaker hand, but Speaker Pelosi has signaled her determination to include migrant protections or reject the Senate bill.

“I had hoped that the House version would pass, that would have made it easy,” Sen. Minority Leader Schumer (D-NY) said. “I hope they have a conference and come to an agreement. We’re prepared to sit down right now.”

Private prison companies, which provide housing for around two-thirds of people detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, are facing the loss of private financing as well, as after Bank of America announced it would stop lending to the facilities on Wednesday. Activists pressured JP Morgan and Wells Fargo to make similar decisions earlier in the year, and growing outcry against the inhumane conditions provided by private prisons has resulted in falling shares for the industry.

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution. He has traveled throughout the Middle East and Latin America to gain firsthand insight in some of the world’s most troubled areas, and he plans on publishing his first book in 2019.

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