WASHINGTON -- The Senate Appropriations Committee plans to take up a supplemental spending bill next week to address the surge of migrants at the U.S. southern border, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday.
The decision marked the first sign of movement on a stand-alone border funding bill, which President Donald Trump first requested on May 1. Republican leaders had tried to include the money in a $19.1 billion aid package for victims of natural disasters that cleared Congress last week, but Democrats objected, citing various concerns over family detention policies and information sharing about undocumented immigrants among federal agencies.
Those concerns may still need to be addressed in any legislation that moves forward, but both parties have acknowledged the need to better cope with what many lawmakers say is a humanitarian crisis at the border that shows no signs of easing. "It's far past time to get serious about this to solve this problem," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday on the Senate floor, in urging speedy action.
A Senate appropriations aide said the exact size and content of the package was yet to be determined. In May, the White House requested a total of $4.5 billion, including $3.3 billion for the Health and Human Services and Homeland Security departments mainly to provide shelter and other basic necessities for thousands of unaccompanied children seeking to enter the U.S.
Trump's supplemental request stopped short of seeking any additional money for a hotly contested border wall.
The biggest piece of the White House request, about $2.9 billion, would be used to provide shelter and other services for unaccompanied migrant children, including for an additional 23,600 beds. And HHS has warned that even that request may no longer be sufficient to keep up with the surge. As much as $1.4 billion in additional aid could be needed soon, it said.
"Today, there are 13,347 unaccompanied children that are the responsibility of the federal government," Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said last week. "All of the money to take care of those kids runs out sometime in the next 30 days. The appropriation is gone, the transfer authority is about to be gone, and there is no money to take care of these kids."
Another $391 million would be provided for DHS to set up processing facilities and shelters for families as well as unaccompanied children to receive food and medical attention before being transferred to other locations.
But efforts to speed relief have been hampered by Democratic concerns over Trump administration detention policies and how information on migrants is shared. Democrats have sought limits on how much information HHS, which cares for unaccompanied children, must share with DHS.
The House Appropriations Committee is considering a fiscal 2020 Homeland Security bill Tuesday that includes language that would bar information sharing that could lead to detention of migrants or the removal of potential sponsors. Exceptions would be allowed in cases when agency officials suspect sponsors have committed crimes such as human trafficking or sexual abuse.