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Homeland Security

Democrats Push Trump Administration on Immigration Oversight

By Katherine Gypson July 11, 2019

Congressional Democrats hope to put last month's scuffle over the $4.6 billion emergency border bill behind them with renewed oversight of the Trump administration's immigration policies and legislation to strengthen protections for families detained at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The push comes amid reports Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will begin nationwide immigration raids Sunday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday, "It's never too late to do the right thing for the children, and when it comes to children, again, I'm the lioness, I'm just going to protect our cubs. And so we're going to use every legislative tactic at our disposal."

House legislation

House Democrats introduced a series of measures earlier this week intended to address the gap between a House-passed bill restricting the Trump administration's operations on the border and the Senate version of the bill that ended up passing both chambers in June.

Democratic leadership had to quell a rebellion from House progressives who objected to voting for the Senate version of the bill, which provided emergency funding to address the humanitarian crisis at the border. A handful of Democrats refused to vote for that bill on the ground it enabled the Trump administration's treatment of asylum-seekers.

Pelosi declined to answer if she would attach this week's measures to must-pass legislation, a move that would avoid a repeat of the embarrassing scenario the leadership encountered last month.

Republican leadership pointed to the new legislation as proof Democrats were finally acknowledging problems on the border.

"I'm just excited that now the Democrats realize there's a crisis," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said. "The problem is their lack of action made the crisis worse, or lack of action when it comes to the supplemental."

Republicans argue Democrats have failed to address increases in undocumented immigration, harming the children and families they want to help.

"By refusing to address our border crisis, we invite child smuggling and child abuse," Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said on the Senate floor Thursday. "Nobody who is compassionate, nobody who wants to be virtuous, nobody who cares about other human beings would want to perpetuate what is happening at the border for even a single day."

Detention policy

But Democrats argue the Trump administration is creating the crisis. Senate Democrats Thursday introduced legislation addressing the administration's family detention policy, while recognizing it has no chance of passing the Republican-controlled chamber.

"If Democrats were in the majority, we'd move this legislation immediately," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said. "We're not. And the question looms: Will [Majority] Leader [Mitch] McConnell stand up for the children and work with us to pass these new standards into law?"

The bill would seek a legislative end to the policy of separating migrant parents from children, along with mandating congressional oversight of children in custody.

"This is a conscious policy decision by this administration to create what they call a deterrent, to make the mistreatment of people at the border a signal and message to people across the world that the door is closed in the United States for asylum and for refuge. And they're doing this in a conscious manner," Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said.

The effort in both chambers provides Democratic lawmakers with political cover with constituents concerned about Trump administration policies. But lawmakers are likely to gain more traction with oversight efforts in committees.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Friday will examine claims of inhumane conditions by members of Congress who visited border detention facilities, as well as hear testimony from officials charged with oversight of the government agencies overseeing detention facilities. In a hearing next week, the committee will hear testimony from acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan.

Additionally, the House Judiciary Committee authorized subpoenas Thursday that would assist an investigation into administration policies at the border.

The investigation would require administration officials to answer questions about reports President Donald Trump offered then-Customs and Border Protection Commissioner McAleenan a pardon if he was jailed for obeying a presidential order denying asylum seekers entry into the United States.

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