Blunt: Border deal slowed by provision that Dems worry may lead to deportations

Some argue inter-agency information sharing could lead to ICE deportation of family members agreeing to take in unaccompanied children

Sen. Roy Blunt speaks with reporters following the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol in Washington on June 11, 2019. Blunt said that a border deal has been slowed by inter-agency information sharing provisions that Democrats worry may lead to deportations. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A dispute over information-sharing between agencies about potential sponsors for unaccompanied children is holding up a bipartisan deal on border-related supplemental spending ahead of a scheduled Wednesday morning markup by the Senate Appropriations Committee, according to a senior GOP panel member.

Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, said Tuesday that while he thinks a deal is close, there’s still a hang-up due to proposed restrictions on information-sharing between the Health and Human Services and Homeland Security departments. 

[Trump’s $4.5 billion border demand slows disaster aid talks]

The issue has prevented passage of an aid package to help provide basic necessities for tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors, families and others attempting to cross the border in record numbers since President Donald Trump first submitted the $4.5 billion request last month.

Negotiators had to drop the funding altogether from a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill Trump signed earlier this month, because the two parties couldn’t agree on the scope of restrictions to put on the ability of the two agencies to share information on potential sponsors of unaccompanied children. 

Democrats argue that if given too much information and leeway, Immigration and Customs Enforcement would simply deport undocumented family members rather than given them custody of the children.

[Disaster aid deal nears as White House presses border funds]

“DHS should not be using information on potential sponsors to unaccompanied kids to deport them,” Senate Appropriations ranking Democrat Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont said on the floor last week.

The fiscal 2019 omnibus spending law includes a prohibition on such information sharing except in cases of known or suspected child molestation, human trafficking or other crimes that could put the unaccompanied minors at risk. Some Democrats and immigration advocates want to go further and bar the agencies from collaborating to check potential sponsors’ backgrounds at all.

Blunt suggested the current-law prohibition strikes the right balance.

“My view is we should do our very best to put these unaccompanied children in safe, home-based situations as quickly as we can,” Blunt said. “And if there is an obstacle about that that relates to just their legal presence in the country as opposed to some other legal problem, I don’t know that it’s helpful to insist that that be shared.”

Blunt said he had spoken to Chairman Richard C. Shelby, an Alabama Republican, about the matter earlier in the day Tuesday. 

Currently the markup is still scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, but details of the legislation were being closely held. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he’d put a bill on the floor before the July Fourth recess without Democratic buy-in if necessary. He also blamed Democrats for the delay, saying the money could have been appropriated as part of the disaster aid bill if not for their objections.

In the absence of $2.9 billion requested for HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency has had to dip into other, nonessential funding streams to help pay for food, medical care, shelter and other needs for the unaccompanied children. The White House says the agency will run out of money this month if further appropriations aren’t forthcoming.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.