US migrant crisis: Senate blocks $4.5bn border aid bill

Immigration activists have been protesting the detention of child migrants on Capitol Hill (EPA/BBC)
Immigration activists have been protesting the detention of child migrants on Capitol Hill (EPA/BBC)

(BBC) The Republican-controlled Senate has rejected a bill designed to send aid to the US border, a day after the world reacted with shock over an image of a drowned migrant family.

Republican Mitch McConnell called the Democratic-led House of Representatives bill “a go-nowhere proposal”.

The Senate will vote on its own version of a humanitarian aid measure next.

Reports of migrant deaths and neglected child detainees have shaped the debate.

Mr McConnell had called House Democrats “consistently uncooperative and uninterested in anything except political posturing”, after the lower chamber approved its own $4.5bn (£3.5bn) border aid bill on Tuesday.

“The Senate has a better and more bipartisan way forward,” he said ahead of the vote. “No poison pills; just a clean bill to provide the emergency appropriations the White House requested two months ago.”

The congressional showdown over the aid funds comes as lawmakers are preparing to take a week-long recess next week.

The two chambers will have to agree on a final version of legislation to send to President Donald Trump to sign into law. The president had threatened to veto the House version of the bill before the vote.

What are the two bills?

The House bill failed by a 37-55 margin, with three Democratic Senators joining Republicans in voting against it.

Both it and the Senate bills include stipulations regarding migrant care and prohibit the use of the funds to build a border wall.

The Senate bill offers Pentagon funding and fewer rules on how agencies can appropriate the funds.

The House version, which passed on Tuesday along party lines in the Democratic-controlled chamber, contained more specific rules about standards for care and how money can be used.

The bill was toughened up after some Democrats expressed concern over providing extra funds for agencies involved in the current situation, including those enforcing President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy which had last year led to migrant children being separated from their parents.

Some progressive Democrats still refused to back the measure despite the last-minute changes.

What has the reaction been?

The congressional showdown follows outcry over humanitarian conditions at the border.

Several bodies, including those of babies and children, were discovered in recent days, as some migrants opted to try and cross into the US illegally, avoiding the formal immigration system.

A photograph of a father and his daughter lying face down in the water of the Rio Grande river has also shocked many. In the photograph, two-year-old Valeria has an arm wrapped around her father, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, as both lie dead close to shore.

Published by the Associated Press on Tuesday, it has drawn comparisons to the photo of young Syrian boy Alan Kurdi, who became a symbol of the human cost of the war in Syria.

Amid a major public outcry about the conditions facing migrant children, Customs and Border Protection acting commissioner John Sanders said he would be stepping down.

The acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Mark Morgan, is set to replace him.

Why is there a political crisis about the border?

Mr Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy was announced in early 2018. By prosecuting adults who crossed the border illegally, it had the effect of separating children from their parents.

Despite a court order requiring families to be reunited and an end to separations last year, hundreds remain in government shelters, to which the public – including journalists and rights activists – had little access.

Lawyers were recently given access to one facility in Clint, Texas, by a judge. They reported appalling conditions inside, in which children under 10 were caring for infants, and massive overcrowding.

Children were “locked up in horrific cells where there’s an open toilet in the middle of the room” where they ate and slept, one of the lawyers told the BBC.

Separately, a legal argument from the government that access to soap and a toothbrush were not necessarily “required” has drawn much