US congress faces migration showdown

28 Jun 19

Democrats in the US congress have backed a bill to rush $4.5bn emergency humanitarian aid to the southern border amid headlines about the suffering of migrants.

The supplementary spending bill approved in the House of Representatives responds to a spate of reports about migrant deaths and the neglect of children held by border officials.

The move sets up a showdown with Republicans in the Senate who back President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy towards migration and are considering a rival bill to strip the plans of their humanitarian objective.

The conditions endured by migrants trying to get to the US from Central America and Mexico have risen rapidly up the political agenda in recent days after a series of disturbing reports and images brought the issue of migration to a head.

Earlier this week authorities in Texas reported seven migrant deaths – including those of a woman, two babies and a toddler – due to extreme summer heat near the Rio Grande.

Then shocking images of the bodies of a man and his baby daughter from El Salvador who had drowned in the Rio Grande generated angry criticisms of Trump’s hardline migration strategy.

Reports of “appalling” conditions faced by child migrants being held at a Texas border patrol facility also caused a public outcry that forced the acting head of US Customs and Border Protection John Sanders to resign.

Sanders told The Associated Press that children have been dying in the agency’s care and that Border Patrol stations are holding 15,000 people – more than triple their maximum capacity.

The Democrats’ bill aims to provide additional funding for food, water and medical attention for migrants as well as stronger protections for unaccompanied children.

It contains strict rules stating that the funds must be used for humanitarian purposes – responding to fears that the funds could end up with agencies carrying out Trump’s policies, and in particular Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel. 

House appropriations committee chair Nita Lowey said in a statement that the funds were “not for immigration raids, not detention beds, not a border wall.”

Trump – whose stance has hardened as the US deals with record numbers of migrant families coming across the border – warned that he will veto the House bill if it passed

In recent months he has cut aid to Central American countries that “send” migrants to the US, threatened to impose tariffs on Mexico unless it stops migrants from heading north, and promised to deport “millions” of undocumented immigrants.

  • Gavin O'Toole, expert on Latin America
    Gavin O'Toole

    A freelance journalist. He has written six books about Latin America and taught the politics of the region at Queen Mary, University of London.

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