The U.S. Senate, agreeing that a humanitarian crisis exists on the nation’s southern border, will wait until late next week to finalize a bill appropriating $4.5 billion in emergency funding.
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican member of the chamber’s Appropriations Committee, said no money would be included for the controversial border wall. Rather, the funding would go toward handling those showing up by the thousands seeking to enter the United States.
“You can’t take 12- and 13- and 14-year-old boys and girls and say, ‘Show up at some future time,’” Blunt said Tuesday. “We have to take care of these kids. We are out of appropriated money to do it.”
Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and majority leader, said the vote by appropriators would come a week from Thursday. The funding package matches the amount President Trump called for in early May.
Half of the existing money meant to be spent on border security has been shifted to housing immigrants and meeting their basic health-care needs, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Judiciary Committee chairman, said at a hearing on Tuesday.
“We want 500 new immigration judges because we have a 900,000-person backlog in asylum claims,” the South Carolina Republican said. “There has to be a breaking point. We’ve reached the breaking point at the border.”
Democrats in the Senate have signaled they will offer support to the emergency funding bill, though they remained cautious over the details.
“There are some things that are not acceptable but some things that we don’t love but we could accept,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat and leader of the chamber’s minority party. “There is a humanitarian need, a very strong need, to help these people.”
Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the Homeland Security Department, said the May enforcement actions by the Customs and Border Patrol stood at 623 percent higher than May 2017 and 206 percent higher than the May average over the past seven years.
He noted at the Judiciary Committee hearing that Homeland Security facilities at the border have been filled to overflowing as resources have been stretched thin, posing a risk to public health.
McAleenan said he shared the senators’ concerns over the humanitarian problems, but he insisted Congress must act.
“I’ve been raising that for months on end,” he said at the hearing. “June of last year was the first time I called this a border and humanitarian crisis in the public, June of last year. And we have not seen action, respectfully.”
Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, a Judiciary Committee member, questioned the acting director about Mexican cartels and their employment of a practice known as “child recycling.” Some border crossers have rented children (one price mentioned was $80 a child) to pose as families, sometimes repeatedly.
In one case, a group used eight children to help bring 36 adults across the border, with human smugglers making the money, McAleenan confirmed for Hawley.
“Quite frankly, the refusal of this Congress to act, to do something about this humanitarian crisis, is absolutely unbelievable and absolutely indefensible,” the Missouri Republican said. “It is the worst failure of leadership that I can think of.”