By Susan Cornwell, Reuters / Washington
US House Democrats said they plan to pass a $4.5bn aid package aimed at addressing the migrant surge along the US-Mexico border, citing an urgency to act following reports of poor conditions facing young children at overcrowded facilities.
“This week we have to solve the humanitarian crisis,” House of Representatives Democratic Caucus chairman Hakeem Jeffries told reporters, predicting that the funding package would pass the House with a “strong Democratic vote.”
But lawmakers were also rushing to add language before the vote to mandate better health and nutrition standards at border facilities.
The changes were being made after some liberal Democrats expressed alarm that not enough was being done to improve conditions at the border, where the number of migrants apprehended surged in May to the highest level since 2006.
Last week, the Associated Press reported on squalid conditions facing migrant children being detained by US authorities, including a lack of access to food, beds and hygiene products such as soap and toothpaste.
Republican US President Donald Trump, despite having requested the $4.5bn border aid package, on Monday night threatened to veto the House bill, saying the provisions added by Democrats — who control the chamber — would make the country “less safe.”
But Jeffries said he expected Trump to sign the bill into law despite his threat, citing the president’s recent reversals on other issues such as tariffs.
“There is no decency to having these children subjected to these horrific conditions,” Jeffries said.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, seeking to galvanise her caucus, told them the House would need a strong vote to prevail.
“A vote against this bill is a vote for Donald Trump and his inhumane, outside-the-circle of civilised attitude toward the children,” she said at a closed-door meeting yesterday morning, according to a senior Democratic aide.
Democratic leaders said they would add language to protect the health of migrants in the custody of US Border Patrol agents, including standards for medical care and nutrition.
The bill’s language would also set a three-month limit for any unaccompanied child migrant to spend at an intake shelter unless notice is given.
It would also reinstate hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras that was cut off by the Trump administration.
The Republican-majority Senate was proceeding with its own $4.6bn version of the legislation and is expected to vote soon.
The two chambers would have to work out their differences before sending a bill to the president.
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