House Democrats unveil changes to border bill to win over progressives

House Democratic leaders on Tuesday unveiled a set of changes to a $4.5 billion package to address the flow of migrants at the southern border in an effort to win over skeptical progressive and Hispanic lawmakers.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democratic leaders met with members of the Progressive and Hispanic caucuses late into the night on Monday to win over their support to pass the legislation, which the House is expected to consider on Tuesday.

But by mid-afternoon Tuesday, Democratic leaders had yet to formally schedule a vote on the legislation as they sought to lock down the votes and finish drafting the legislative text.

{mosads}The changes unveiled by the House Appropriations Committee include requiring Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to establish health standards for children and adults in custody, including for nutrition and hygiene.

They would also require the Department of Homeland Security to submit a plan to ensure that all migrants have access to translation services. In addition, they would limit the amount of time that unaccompanied migrant children can spend at an arrival shelter unless the Department of Health and Human Services notifies Congress that there isn’t enough space at licensed facilities to ensure a transfer to a state-licensed facility.

Pelosi noted that the legislation is a funding measure, not an immigration reform bill, emphasizing the importance of getting the money to the border to deal with the crisis as the first step of a longer debate.

“It’s an appropriations bill to meet the needs of our children. … I said to the members, ‘We have to have a country where every child knows that they are in their parents’ arms, literally or figuratively,'” Pelosi said.

House Republicans are largely expected to side with the White House and vote against the package, given their opposition to provisions that establish more restrictions for the migrant detention facilities. The White House issued a veto threat against the House bill, calling it a “partisan bill that underfunds necessary accounts and seeks to take advantage of the current crisis by inserting policy provisions that would make our country less safe.”

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a member of the House Appropriations Committee who represents a district along the southern border, described the changes as “guardrails” designed to ensure that migrant children are protected.

He expressed confidence that the legislation would pass later Tuesday, although some liberals would likely still oppose it.

House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) also predicted passage: “If we failed to do it, it would be seen as a victory for Trump.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also predicted it would pass: “I certainly expect it to.”

By mid-afternoon, lawmakers were more circumspect about the timing.

When asked if she still expected a vote later Tuesday, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) replied, “I hope so.”

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), who leads the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Department of Homeland Security, said it’s “very close.”

Yet multiple Hispanic and progressive lawmakers said they were inclined to vote for the legislation despite their remaining reservations.

“I don’t have any trust or faith that this administration is going to follow through,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) “I’m voting yes because of the humanitarian relief, period.”

When asked if it was fair to say he was “holding his nose” on this vote, Grijalva replied: “More than fair.”

Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) also said that he was inclined to vote for the bill even though he doesn’t think the set of changes unveiled by Democratic leaders earlier Tuesday goes far enough.

Ruiz advocated for his own bill, which would require CBP to conduct initial health screenings on detainees and directly order the agency to ensure migrants have access to water, toilets and personal hygiene products, rather than asking the agency to come up with standards.

“They’re going to say, ‘We already have standards,'” Ruiz said of CBP.

At the same time, Ruiz acknowledged, “The well has run dry. So at some level, you gotta put water in the well. But it’s not going to change behavior. So it’s a desperate bill for a desperate situation.”

Lawmakers are scrambling to approve the border funding as soon as possible to ensure the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, doesn’t run out of funding in the coming weeks.

The Senate is also considering its own competing $4.5 billion package this week, although it is bipartisan. House Democrats are advancing their own version because they didn’t think the Senate bill went far enough to establish standards for migrants held in detention.

Among other provisions, the Senate bill includes funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers for overtime and back pay, while the House version does not.

The House measure also would require the Department of Health and Human Services to report to Congress within 24 hours if an unaccompanied migrant child dies while in the government’s custody. In addition, it would allot a somewhat shorter time frame for facilities that hold migrant children to meet existing standards for humane conditions.

—Updated at 2:39 p.m.

Tags Immigration John Yarmuth Lucille Roybal-Allard Nancy Pelosi Nita Lowey Raul Ruiz Steny Hoyer
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