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House passes emergency funding bill for migrant care crisis

Protesters gather to demand the defunding of government agencies for border protection and customs enforcement, Tuesday, June 25, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON — It took last-minute changes and a full-court press by top Democratic leaders, but the House passed with relative ease Tuesday a $4.5 billion emergency border aid package to care for thousands of migrant families and unaccompanied children detained after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The bill passed along party lines after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quelled a mini-revolt by progressives and Hispanic lawmakers who sought significant changes to the legislation. New provisions added to the bill Tuesday were more modest than what those lawmakers had sought, but the urgent need for the funding — to prevent the humanitarian emergency on the border from turning into a debacle — appeared to outweigh any lingering concerns.

The 230-195 vote sets up a showdown with the Republican-led Senate, which may try instead to force Democrats to send Trump a different, and broadly bipartisan, companion measure in coming days as the chambers race to wrap up the must-do legislation by the end of the week.

“The Senate has a good bill. Our bill is much better,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told her Democratic colleagues in a meeting Tuesday morning, according to a senior Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private session.

“We are ensuring that children have food, clothing, sanitary items, shelter and medical care. We are providing access to legal assistance. And we are protecting families because families belong together,” Pelosi said in a subsequent floor speech.

The bill contains more than $1 billion to shelter and feed migrants detained by the border patrol and almost $3 billion to care for unaccompanied migrant children who are turned over the Department of Health and Human Services. It seeks to mandate improved standards of care at HHS “influx shelters” that house children waiting to be placed with sponsors such as family members in the U.S.

Both House and Senate bills ensure funding could not be shifted to Trump’s border wall and would block information on sponsors of immigrant children from being used to deport them. Trump would be denied additional funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds.

“The President’s cruel immigration policies that tear apart families and terrorize communities demand the stringent safeguards in this bill to ensure these funds are used for humanitarian needs only — not for immigration raids, not detention beds, not a border wall,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.