WASHINGTON – House Democrats unveiled a $4.5 billion measure Friday to respond to the growing humanitarian crisis at the southern border and the government’s responsibility to care for tens of thousands of migrant refugees seeking safety in the U.S. under its asylum laws.
The measure is scheduled for a floor vote next week as both the House and Senate are scrambling to wrap up action on the must-do measure before agencies caring for the influx of migrants – already stretched to the limit – run out of money.
The measure was unveiled as lawmakers and the administration are increasingly unnerved by the crisis and reports of bad living conditions at government-funded shelters .
At the White House, the government’s point man in handling the crisis stressed the need to act and said time is running out.
“We’re going to run out of money in July because the numbers are just so high,” Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar said Friday at the White House.
“This is not about gamesmanship,” he said. “This is not about politics. This is not about immigration policy. This is a humanitarian relief package. And it has got to pass. It’s got to pass immediately. We are out of money and we are out of capacity.”
The House measure provides $2.9 billion for refuge and migrant care and assistance by the Department of Health and Human Services, another $1.3 billion for care provided by Department of Homeland Security agencies, and $60 million to reimburse local governments and non-profits who help shelter migrants.
“There are serious humanitarian needs at the border, and we all recognize the clear need to act,” said Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. “This legislation would address the humanitarian crisis in a way that balances the needs at the border with the imperative to hold the administration accountable.”
The House bill is similar to a Senate measure that won a sweeping bipartisan vote in the Appropriations Committee on Thursday. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., promised a Senate vote next week.
House liberals insisted on changes such as additional money for legal help for migrants and a denial of funds for overtime and salaries of immigration agents. House Democrats vow to vote before the Senate, but most Republicans are likely to vote against the measure. Many lawmakers expect that the bipartisan Senate version will generally prevail.
“If I had a vehicle that both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate could vote for and the president has said he would sign, that’s the vehicle we ought to be using,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a senior member of the Appropriations Committee. “Not something they cook up here.”
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, praised the House measure for denying funding to the Pentagon for logistical support in handling the crisis. He said Hispanic lawmakers had a positive meeting with Lowey this week and most of them are expected to support the legislation despite not getting all they wanted.
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