House Advances Bill to Boost Health and Hygiene in Immigration Facilities

(ACLU photo)

WASHINGTON (CN) – House Democrats propelled a bill on Tuesday that mandates health screenings and basic hygiene products for immigrants in detention facilities, sending it to the floor for a vote before Congress recesses.

Republicans on the House Rules Committee slammed the bill as a partisan effort to bandage, rather than fix, a broken immigration system. They condemned Democrats for demanding more from U.S. Customs and Border Protection without allocating additional funds. 

Ranking member Tom Cole, R-Okla., warned that the bill will die in the Senate.

“The requirements the bill imposes on Customs and Border Protection will be at best burdensome and at worst impossible to meet,” Cole said. “Moreover, the bill does so without providing any additional funds to the CBP to even begin or make it work.”

Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said the bill will create robust standards for sanitary conditions in detention centers. 

Recalling the filth and overcrowding he witnessed at CBP facilities earlier this month, McGovern said Democrats are prepared to act now to address inhumane conditions in what he described as a “crisis of our own making.”

“I’ll never forget the fear that I saw when I looked at the eyes of these kids, and the shame I felt that it was happening here in America,” McGovern said.

During both the Trump administration and the Obama administration, the U.S. neglected the factors in Central America now causing migrants to flee, McGovern added.

“Until we and other countries in the area decide that we are going to work to try to help stabilize some of these countries, you can build walls, you can close all kinds of loopholes, people are going to still flee for their lives,” he said. 

Cole hit back, saying the failure to address loopholes in the U.S. immigration system draws migrants across the border.

“Those loopholes provide perverse incentives for adults to send children on a hazardous journey across the border, often in the company of dangerous people,” he said.

The committee heard testimony from House Judiciary Committee members before voting along party lines to move the bill to the floor.

Representative Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., pointed to standing-room-only cells, lack of functioning toilets and CBP’s failure to consistently provide toothbrushes and soap as evidence the Trump administration dehumanizes immigrants.

Lofgren, who chairs the House Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee, reminded the committee that in the last fiscal year three children and seven adults died in CBP custody. 

“[The bill] cuts through the incompetence and restores order and basic humanity to the processing of immigrants at the border,” Lofgren said. 

Calling the legislation a “symptoms bill,” Representative Doug Collins, R-Ga., said it imposes significant custodial responsibilities on law enforcement officers.

Lofgren argued that CBP facilities could effectively implement the health guidelines mandated in the bill within six months by relying on nontraditional methods, noting a Verizon Wireless mobile translation service that can facilitate over-the-phone health consultations when a medical professional is not on site. 

“The capacity to meet some of these requirements is not as complex as it may appear,” Lofgren said.

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