Pelosi Lauds Border Bill as Not Funding 'Failed Mass Detention Policy'

House Dems expected to pass Tuesday

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June 25, 2019

The House of Representatives is expected to vote Tuesday on a bill that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) cheered for funding "humane alternatives to detention" instead of "the Administration's failed mass detention policy."

"The legislation protects families. It does not fund the Administration's failed mass detention policy, but, instead, funds effective, humane alternatives to detention with a proven track record of success," Pelosi said Sunday night. "It places strict limits on influx shelters, protects sponsors from DHS immigration enforcement based on information collected by HHS during the vetting process and creates strong oversight by Congress including to protect unaccompanied children."

The funding bill is a response to the swelling influx of Central American immigrants arriving daily at the southwestern border, with more than 150,000 people apprehended attempting to cross illegally in May alone. The result has been a detention system stretched well beyond its means, prompting widespread criticism of conditions from the media and calls for emergency funding from both U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the New York Times.

Congress has been slow to act, however. House Democrats blocked a Republican-proposed amendment that would have offered $4.5 billion in emergency funding. Since then, negotiators in the House and Senate have worked to bang out a compromise aid package, with the Senate appropriations committee passing a proposal last week.

The House proposal expected to get a vote on Tuesday is H.R. 3401, introduced Friday by Rep. Nita Lowey (D., N.Y.). According to Politico, the bill is substantively similar to the Senate version, but includes "extra oversight demands" and "hundreds of millions of dollars less" in funding to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The bill does appropriate $700 million for "migrant processing facilities," and an additional $85 million specifically for "procurement, construction, and improvements" related to those facilities. But it also expands quality requirements, mandating that temporary detention facilities meet the same basic standards as permanent facilities within twelve months. It further instructs the Department of Health and Human Services to try to minimize the number of unaccompanied children placed in "influx" facilities, especially those likely to be detained for no more than 30 days.

Given these facts, it is not clear what component of the bill led to Pelosi's conclusion it did not fund "mass detention policy." Her office did not return multiple requests for comment.

The bill additionally appropriates $20 million for "alternatives to detention," which Pelosi said had a "proven track record of success." These ATD programs range from ankle monitoring to release on recognizance with check-ins from case-workers. Certain instances have been highly successful, like the release-and-oversee approach deployed in the Family Case Management Program, which saw 100 percent of families overseen make it to immigration court hearings.

But narrow successes do not mean the approach works more generally. According to Matthew Albence, executive associate director of U.S. ICE-ERO, 27.7 percent of members of families on ATD absconded in FY 2018, compared to 16.4 percent of non-family units. Those detained under ATD also take longer to deport. According to Albence, only about 2,000 ATD enrollees were removed from the country in FY 2017, about 3 percent of enrollees and 1 percent of all deportations.

What the bill does not contain is any money for border enforcement. This was necessary for House Democrats to gain the support of their progressive wing, Politico reported. It also contains no modifications to the asylum process or immigration system as a whole.

On Monday, meanwhile, Pelosi expressed a blasé attitude towards internal immigration enforcement. Speaking at a town hall, Pelosi responded to a question about planned ICE raids to deport illegally resident individuals with, "What's the point?" In her time in the speakership, Pelosi's immigration focus has been decidedly elsewhere: Earlier this month, she oversaw the passage of a mass amnesty for 2.5 million people on a party-line vote.