House Passes Humanitarian Standards Bill for Immigration Facilities

A page from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General’s report detailing conditions at immigrant detention facilities.

WASHINGTON (CN) – Amid national outrage over the conditions at Customs and Border Protection detention centers at the southern border, the House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill putting new requirements for health screenings and other standards of care for federal facilities that hold migrants.

The bill, which passed 233-195 Wednesday night, requires Customs and Border Protection to give health screenings to the people in its custody within 12 hours of their being detained or within six hours if the person is a child, pregnant or has a disability.

The bill also requires CBP to provide people in its facilities with a minimum amount of space, as well as three meals a day, water, private toilets and showers and access to hygiene items like soap and toothbrushes. The bill also requires the detention centers to be well-lit, kept at comfortable temperatures and in conditions necessary for the people held in them to sleep.

“Tonight’s vote isn’t about politics, it isn’t about party, it isn’t even about immigration policy,” Rep. Raul Ruiz, a California Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said on the House floor Wednesday.  “This vote is about the beauty and power of grace. This vote is about loving and protecting children, because in the United States of America we recognize the inherent dignity of every human being.”

The conditions at Customs and Border Protection facilities have drawn scrutiny from Congress in recent weeks and months, amid reports of squalid conditions and rampant overcrowding at some of the centers. The centers were meant to hold single men who crossed the border illegally for short periods of time, but their populations have swelled beyond capacity as more and more families arrive at the border without the proper documentation.

The agency itself has warned about the overcrowding at its facilities, calling it a threat to the health and safety of the people held in the centers, as well as of the guards who work there.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump signed into law a $4.5 billion package aimed at improving the conditions in the facilities. Facing pressure from progressive members of the caucus, House Democrats attempted to include language in that bill that would have imposed humanitarian requirements on CBP similar to those included in the bill passed Wednesday, but the changes could not clear the Senate and ultimately fell out of the funding package.

Republicans expressed doubts about the bill, saying it would require too many changes at the facilities for CBP to feasibly make them within the time period the legislation allows. They also called the bill a one-size-fits-all measure that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for some facilities to meet its requirements.

“This bill’s onerous requirements significantly impact CBP’s mission and ignores the reality that CBP is confronting an influx of migrants that has overwhelmed the system and caused a crisis,” Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., said on the House floor Wednesday.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill, calling its requirements “onerous.”

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