Trump’s Immigration Enforcement Agenda Gets Boost from Partisan Vote

Bill would provide $51.4 billion to Homeland Security

Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump rally during his visit to see the border wall prototypes on March 13, 2018 in San Diego, California. The administration’s immigration enforcement agenda got a significant boost from a House Appropriations Committee vote this week. (David McNew/Getty Images file photo)

President Donald Trump’s immigration enforcement and border security agenda got a significant boost after the  House Appropriations Committee voted 29-22 along party lines to approve a bill that would provide $51.4 billion to the Homeland Security Department in fiscal 2019. 

Overall, Wednesday’s  bill — which  would provide $51.4 billion in discretionary funding to DHS, a nearly 8 percent increase over the $47.7 billion provided to the department in the fiscal 2018 omnibus spending law. 

Republicans on Wednesday blocked numerous Democratic amendments to the bill that would have repurposed $5 billion the GOP had set aside for construction of Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall and other security technology. They did join with Democrats to approve a series of measures to increase scrutiny of the administration’s treatment of undocumented migrant families held in detention.

The committee approved two amendments designed to support undocumented migrant families separated by the Trump administration, a rare moment of bipartisanship in a typically hyperpartisan debate.

The amendments for the most part will not actually force the president to make any changes to his border security and immigration enforcement policies; both measures inserted language in the bill’s accompanying committee report, which is nonbinding and does not become law.

One measure, by Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., chairman of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, inserted language in the committee report directing DHS to allow detained immigrants to make phone calls free of charge and to increase unannounced inspection of detention facilities. The amendment would also codify into law language to require DHS to allow members of Congress to enter the facilities.

The second amendment, by Yoder and his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, inserts in the committee report language that DHS “shall only separate a child from a parent if the parent has a criminal history, a communicable disease, or is determined to be unfit or a danger to the child.”

DHS separated more than 2,500 children from their parents between April and June before Trump reversed the practice after coming under fire from members of both parties. The committee report already included language that would require DHS to submit to Congress a report on the family separations.

The family separations have hung over Congress for more than a month, gumming up the annual appropriations process and creating pressure for Republicans to adopt provisions that would limit the practice or, at the very least, express opposition to it.

Both amendments were approved by voice vote. The committee also approved an amendment to the spending bill — not the report — that would bar funds from being used to detain or deport so-called Dreamers who are serving in the military.

The bipartisanship did not extend to funding for a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. An amendment by Roybal-Allard to use $5 billion in the bill set aside for border construction to instead build a new icebreaker for the Coast Guard was defeated by a vote of 29-21.

Republicans blocked other enforcement-related Democratic amendments too, including one that would bar Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers from carrying out operations in sensitive locations like schools, childcare centers or public demonstrations. But they approved, 30-20, an amendment to bar women in immigration detention from receiving abortions in most situations.

The committee approved a handful of less controversial amendments, including one by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., which would allow H-2A agricultural guest worker visas to be used by farm workers, such as those in the dairy industry, who would not have previously qualified.

Lawmakers also adopted an amendment to exempt guest workers who held an H-2B seasonal work visa in the past two fiscal years from being counted against the current fiscal year’s cap. The measure was designed to relieve small-business owners in seasonal industries, such as landscaping and seafood processing, who say there are not enough visas available to meet their demand for workers. That amendment was sponsored by Reps. Andy Harris, R-Md., and Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.  

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