In March, then-Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen warned that “the magnitude of arriving and detained aliens has increased the risk of life-threatening incidents” and that her agency was facing “a system-wide meltdown.”
Despite her pleas for relief for border agents and DHS officers, as well as the Trump administration’s May $4.5 billion emergency funding request, Congress would not act.
The frustration with the inaction boiled over during a Wednesday hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee that was scheduled to address human trafficking on the border.
“Instead of actually providing funding for [Nielsen] in that period, this Congress delayed and didn’t provide the funding and didn’t engage,” declared Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) after running through the countless letters from DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) imploring Congress to act.
The exasperated lawmaker took issue with his Democratic colleagues, who he said, “are trying to identify children that are not getting care [in detention centers]at the same time of slowing down the process of trying to get humanitarian aid to try and hurt this presidential election.”
One Senate colleague in particular has accumulated a record of slowing down the process. On May 23, after an agreement had been reached between the Republicans and Democrats to move on humanitarian relief, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who had only recently conceded there was a border crisis, ignored the urgency of the moment by suggesting that the Senate “put unrelated issues to the side” and vote on a separate disaster aid bill and only then “return to those unrelated issues at a later date.”
Schumer was playing politics again this week when he tried to delay a vote on the supplemental bill until an unrelated amendment on Iran was added to an unrelated bill (the National Defense Authorization Act, a $750 billion defense policy bill for 2020). At the same time, the New York Democrat was criticizing President Trump for not doing enough for migrants in detention centers and other DHS facilities.
Yes, Schumer was delaying action on a bill to give assistance to the same migrants he was accusing the administration of ignoring. The same bill that would give limited but desperately needed assistance to the overwhelmed and underfunded agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) struggling to manage the more than 593,000 migrants apprehended between October and the end of May.
To put that figure in perspective, it represents more apprehensions than full fiscal year totals for the previous ten years, according to the testimony of Brian S. Hastings, the chief of CBP’s Law Enforcement Operations Directorate. Hastings added that it means on any given day CBP is faced with housing between 12,000 and 18,000 detainees when – 6,000 is considered to be “a crisis level.”
The crisis has pushed CBP well beyond its capacity, which then transfers detainees to ICE, which is beyond its capacity to handle 18,000 migrants. Then, ICE transfers the detainees to HHS, which also lacks capacity to care for them. As Nielsen warned, the border agencies are in “meltdown.”
The House version of the border supplemental was so weak and laden with poison pills that it failed to pass the Senate. The radically liberal wing of the House secured several demands it had, while rejecting Republican efforts to add funding for more immigration judges, more detention space to house migrants, and even money to support National Guard and Reserve Forces deployed to the border. For example, it included a provision that prescribes a certain kind of physical exercise for unaccompanied minor children.
The Senate did pass a bipartisan bill of its own by an overwhelming 84-8 vote, which triggered negotiations over the two bills. Pelosi and her Democrat caucus wanted to make additional changes to what they passed, including cutting funding to ICE, that were so out of the mainstream that moderate members of her caucus revolted.
Even if they had backed the liberal move to neuter the immigration enforcement agency, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rebuffed her efforts, saying he would not bring any amended bill to a vote.
“[T]hey want to claw back some of this badly-needed money from the men and women on the front lines. It looks like these cuts would represent pay cuts to ICE staff, including pay that people have already earned, and cuts to the money for investigating child trafficking,” McConnell said in addressing the Senate on Thursday morning.
Whether the delay is one more day or one more week, it was clear some members of Congress have had enough placing Band Aids on gaping wounds and hoping for the best,
Sen. Lankford’s equally irate colleague, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), said Congress was abdicating its responsibilities by failing to do what really is needed to stem the flow of illegal aliens.
“We know we need to reform the asylum system. We know we’ve got to stop the pull factors, as well as address the push factors. We know all that, but this Congress won’t do anything. This morning I’ve heard, just from my colleagues across the aisle this morning, I’ve heard statements like: ‘I’m heartbroken.’ ‘No one is more vulnerable than a child.’ ‘The status quo is unacceptable.’ ‘It is unsustainable.’ But, yet we don’t do anything to change it. And there’s no will to change it,” proclaimed Hawley.