To read the news coverage and punditry following Thursday’s U.S. House vote on border funding, you’d think President Trump and Senate Republicans were the big winners.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had vowed the House version of the bill would, unlike the Senate’s, include restrictions on how agencies could use the funds and more protections for unaccompanied minors being held at the Mexican border. But Pelosi ultimately gave in and held a vote on a bill without those amendments, largely because members of her own party were unwilling — and rightly so — to let the bill languish any further.
Pelosi’s intent — to force the Trump administration to improve conditions for those being treated inhumanely at the border by our government — was correct, but to delay getting help to those in need would have been an even greater failure.
On the partisan political scoreboard, perhaps it is a triumph for the president and Senate leadership; their version of the funding bill won out, after all. The real winners here are those being detained — assuming the Immigration and Customs Enforcement arm of Homeland Security applies the funds to bettering the treatment of detainees, especially children.
There have always been immigrants and asylum seekers at our southern border, but the pressure has increased dramatically under the Trump administration. While often-horrific conditions in their native countries is the root cause, the increase appears fueled, in part, by fear among Central and South American residents that their opportunity to emigrate to the U.S. will be lost under a president whose central campaign theme was: Stop letting these people in.
But it’s also, in part, a manufactured crisis created and worsened by Trump’s policies, including pulling humanitarian aid from some of the countries in turmoil and intentionally worsening conditions in border detention camps, with the goal of dissuading desperate, endangered people from trying to enter our country.
Essentially, the policy is to make coming here so difficult and unpleasant that those pondering the trek from or through Mexico won’t bother. The fact that they still do speaks to the quality of life they’re trying to put behind them. And Congress, too, has until now shared blame resulting from partisan inaction borne from a fear of letting the other party, or the president, claim a “victory.”
The result is appalling and unconscionable. Habitat for Humanity’s Kate Sam, in The Baltimore Sun, described the treatment of children at the border detention centers:
“For those who haven’t read about it, multiple news outlets, from the New York Times to Fox News, reported that hundreds of children as young as 2 are being held in inhumane conditions. They are in overcrowded cells, without soap or toothbrushes, without diapers or clean clothes, sleeping on cold floors with the lights on all night. Older children are doing their best to comfort other children they have only just met. Attorneys from the Justice Department argued that none of this violated their legal duty to provide ‘safe and sanitary’ conditions for children.
“Beyond the latest reports, we also know that thousands of children have been separated from their parents and that there have been thousands of reports of sexual assault and abuse in these detention facilities. In the past year alone, at least seven children have died in detention — after a decade of no deaths.”
The administration’s efforts to defend this sort of treatment have alternately tried to shift the blame to congressional Democrats — who have no ability on their own to direct the administration’s policies — or to put it on the immigrants themselves: If you don’t want to be mistreated, don’t come here.
The recent excuse for not addressing the humanitarian crisis has been to say there’s not enough money to improve conditions. That’s a farcical claim from a president who has moved funding for needed projects to put toward his favored border wall. The Department of Homeland Security’s 2019 budget is $47.5 billion. The Border Patrol alone gets $4.4 billion this year. To say there’s not enough money to provide diapers and mattresses is beyond reason.
But even accepting that additional funds were needed, Congress has now acted. That excuse has ceased to exist, and the public outrage that pushed House Democrats and Pelosi to cave will lie upon only Trump and his agencies if they now fail to address the crisis.
Whether they now act in a more humane manner, and how much mistreatment of innocent children Americans will endure, remains to be seen.