Senate Passes New Version of Border Aid Package

A pregnant immigrant climbs the U.S. border fence before jumping into San Diego, Calif., from Tijuana, Mexico, on Dec. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate on Wednesday passed a nearly $4.6 billion emergency spending package, most of which will go towards giving federal agencies more resources to care for immigrant families and children seeking to enter the United States through the southern border.

The Senate passed the bill 84-8 on Wednesday afternoon, less than a full day after the House passed a competing version of the legislation. Just before approving the aid package, the Republican-controlled Senate defeated the Democrat-backed bill the House passed Tuesday night.

Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill has support from both Republicans and Democrats. Of the total spending in the bill, $2.88 billion goes towards the Department of Health and Human Services’ efforts to care for children who arrive at the border unaccompanied.

The legislation also includes $793 million for Customs and Border Protection to improve conditions at the agency’s facilities that house migrants.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Senator Pat Leahy, D-Vt., said on the Senate floor Wednesday in support of the legislation. “Taking care of children, we should all agree on that.”

With two different versions of the border spending package having now cleared each chamber, lawmakers will need to work to negotiate out the differences in the two pieces of legislation. Leadership had set a goal of sending a bill for President Donald Trump to sign before the end of the week, when lawmakers are scheduled to leave Washington, D.C., for a week-long recess.

Senator Richard Shelby, the Alabama Republican who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters on Wednesday that Vice President Mike Pence will be involved in ironing out the differences to get a bill to Trump.

“I would be our goal to try to get this bill passed this week, I would hope that would be the goal of the House before the Fourth of July recess,” Shelby said. “I think it’s the right thing to do, it’s humanitarian.”

The two votes come amid increased attention from the public and lawmakers on the conditions at federal facilities that hold immigrants who cross the southern border illegally, particularly those that house children. Lawyers, activists and journalists who have visited the facilities have reported overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.

The Associated Press reported on one facility that held children in Clint, Texas, that was without sufficient food, water and other necessities. Children at the facility were forced to care for each other, according to the report.

The Trump administration asked for the additional $4.5 billion to help respond to an influx of people crossing the border illegally. The administration said it apprehended almost 133,000 people in May, up from 99,000 the month before. Of that total in May, more than 96,000 of the apprehensions were unaccompanied children or families, according to Customs and Border Protection.

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