Acting head of US Customs and Border Protection John Sanders announced his resignation amid an outcry over alarming detention conditions of migrant children in Texas and heat-induced deaths of immigrants in border states.

People hold placards during a demonstration by an international delegation of global labour leaders, civil society and students to condemn US President Donald Trump's administrations policy of child detention and migrant family separation in front of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on June 17, 2019.
People hold placards during a demonstration by an international delegation of global labour leaders, civil society and students to condemn US President Donald Trump's administrations policy of child detention and migrant family separation in front of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on June 17, 2019. (Reuters)

House Democrats passed a $4.5 billion funding package to ease a migrant surge that has subjected children detained at US-Mexico border to overcrowded conditions as the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency said on Tuesday its acting commissioner is resigning.

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

The urgency has been amplified by the revelation of gruesome conditions in a windowless Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, where hundreds of children were being kept in the sweltering heat. 

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. 

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

What's in the bill?

New provisions added to the bill on 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.

"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 US.

Agencies are about to run out of money and failure to act could bring accusations of ignoring the plight of innocent immigrant children. 

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, Democrat representative from New York.

Three moderates were the only House Republicans to back the measure. 

The only four Democratic "no" votes came from some of the party's best-known freshmen: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ihan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

White House threatens to veto bill

The White House has threatened to veto the House bill, saying it would hamstring the administration's border security efforts. The Senate's top Republican suggested that the House should simply accept the Senate measure — which received only a single "nay" vote during a committee vote last week.

"The idea here is to get a (presidential) signature, so I think once we can get that out of the Senate, hopefully on a vote similar to the one in the Appropriations Committee, I'm hoping that the House will conclude that's the best way to get the problem solved, which can only happen with a signature," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a representative from Kentucky.

A handful of GOP conservatives went to the White House to try to persuade Trump to reject the Senate bill and demand additional funding for immigration enforcement such as overtime for border agents and detention facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a top GOP lawmaker who demanded anonymity to discuss a private meeting.

Trump was expected to reject the advice.

House Democrats seeking the changes met late Monday with Pelosi, and lawmakers emerging from the Tuesday morning caucus meeting were generally supportive of the legislation.

Congress plans to leave Washington in a few days for a weeklong July 4 recess, and pressure is intense to wrap up the legislation before then.

Longtime GOP Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma said Democrats were simply "pushing partisan bills to score political points and avoiding doing the hard work of actually making law," warning them that "passing a partisan bill through this chamber won't solve the problem."

Neglect of migrant children

The windowless enclosure in Clint, Texas held more than 300 infants and children.

Most of the children were transferred to other facilities after the uproar but then 100 were moved back to the station in Clint, Texas, CBP officials told reporters on Tuesday.

Temperatures in Clint soar closer to 40 degrees Celcius.

Many were kept there for weeks and were caring for each other in conditions that included inadequate food, water and sanitation.

By Tuesday, most had been sent elsewhere. The incident was only an extreme example of the dire conditions reported at numerous locations where detainees have been held, and several children have died in US custody.

The Border Patrol reported apprehending nearly 133,000 people last month — including many Central American families — as monthly totals have begun topping 100,000 for the first time since 2007.
A six-year-old immigrant from India was found dead in the triple-digit heat in Arizona this month, and seven people believed to be migrants died in June alone in irrigation canals that run alongside border barriers near El Paso. 

Federal agencies involved in immigration have reported being overwhelmed, depleting their budgets and housing large numbers of detainees in structures meant for handfuls of people.

Changes unveiled Tuesday would require the Department of Homeland Security to establish new standards for the care of unaccompanied immigrant children and a plan for ensuring adequate translators to assist migrants in their dealings with law enforcement. The government would have to replace contractors who provide inadequate care.

Many children detained entering the US from Mexico have been held under harsh conditions.

Sanders announces resignation

CBP Chief Operating Officer John Sanders announced Tuesday that he's stepping down next month amid outrage over his agency's treatment of detained migrant children.

Sanders, who led CBP since April, will leave his post on July 5, the agency said.

Sanders told The Associated Press last week that children have died after being in the agency's care. He said Border Patrol stations are holding 15,000 people — more than triple their maximum capacity of 4,000.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies