US House passes Senate border aid bill, sends to Trump

After abandoning effort to add additional migrant protections, Democrats 'reluctantly' pass Senate $4.6bn aid bill.

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    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walks to the House floor from her office on Capitol Hill [Alex Brandon/AP Photo]
    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walks to the House floor from her office on Capitol Hill [Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

    Washington, DC - The United States House of Representatives passed the Senate version of a $4.6bn emergency border aid bill on Thursday after the country's top Democrat "reluctantly" urged her caucus to vote for the measure. 

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reversed course on Thursday, abandoning her effort to negotiate a compromise bill with Trump administration officials and the Senate that that included stronger restrictions on how the Trump administration could spend the money and additional migrant protections. 

    "This is not the one we had hoped for, but it's the one I hope we're voting on today," Pelosi said on Thursday. "We could have done so much better than what we did today."

    She added in a statement that in "order to get resources to the children fastest, we reluctantly pass the Senate bill." 

    House approval of the funding without the conditions sought by critics of President Donald Trump's controversial zero-tolerance policy on the US-Mexico border gives the US president a legislative win.

    The 305-102 vote sends the measure to Trump for his signature. 

    Faced with a surge in migrant families, the US border patrol has been overwhelmed by the numbers of adults and children it is holding in detention sites that were not designed to handle large groups of people. The administration had asked Congress two months ago for new emergency funding. 

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    The Democrat-controlled House approved a $4.5bn spending bill on Tuesday that withheld funding for the ICE and US military operations ordered by Trump at the border.

    Republicans objected and said they would blame Democrats for the deplorable condition of migrant children being held by authorities if the funds were not provided. 

    Reversing course

    Forcing Pelosi's hand, the Senate had passed its bill on Wednesday that gave Trump all of the $4.6bn he requested without many of the conditions included in the House measure. The bill won support from Senate Democrats by providing for greater transparency and more congressional oversight of the government's handling of migrants being held.

    "We have already negotiated a broadly supported bipartisan funding bill," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders had said in a statement on Thursday. "It's time for House Democrats to pass the Senate bill, stop delaying funding to deal with this very real humanitarian crisis."

    Pelosi had spoken to Trump on Wednesday for about 15 minutes, prior to his departure for the G20 meeting in Osaka, about the emergency border funding legislation. Pelosi said she felt the president had been open to some of her caucus's concerns.

    But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected Pelosi's appeal for a deal, calling on the House to take up and pass the Senate bill.

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    "It's not going to happen," he said. "We already have our compromise."

    In last-minute talks with Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday, Pelosi had argued for four revisions to the legislation sought by liberal members of her Democrat caucus and designed to improve the care for migrant children being held at the southwest US border.

    "For the children, we must have a higher standard of medical attention for them as well as their hygiene and nutrition as well as the training of the personnel who address their needs," Pelosi said earlier on Thursday.

    Democrats wanted to limit the time a child can be held in so-called "influx centres" by border patrol to 90 days "so they can safely be placed with family". They also wanted private contractors who operate detention centres to lose their contracts after six months if they fail to uphold federal standards.

    Democrats called for faith-based and non-governmental organisations, local and state governments to be reimbursed by the federal government for their efforts. Finally, Democrats were seeking a pilot programme to establish an interagency migrant processing centre that would work with outside groups to create a better environment for families held on the border.

    The Trump administration offered to handle Pelosi's demands by administrative action in exchange for quick action on the Senate bill, McConnell said. 

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    Late in the day on Thursday, Democrats attempted to bring Pelosi's proposed compromise to the House for a vote but withdrew the legislation after it appeared it did not have sufficient support to pass.

    "There is a humanitarian emergency at the border. You know, we share the anguish of the American people about this," Representative Jamie Raskin, a rank-and-file Democrat, told Al Jazeera.

    "These are not political games for us. But we only one house of Congress," Raskin said.

    The Senate bill provides $145m to support the US military's operations at the border, which House Democrats opposed. It includes $793m to improve migrant housing conditions at border stations and detention sites and $112m for migrant care.

    The bill provides $2.88bn for the Health and Human Services Department's (HHS) much-criticised programme to house unaccompanied migrant children, allowing the HHS to expand its housing capacity.

    From October 2018 to May 2019, nearly 51,000 children were referred to the HHS, a 60 percent increase from last year, according to a Senate summary of the bill.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News