From the Capitol

Senator Leahy’s statement on the emergency supplemental to address the humanitarian crisis at the southern border

Last week, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee came together and approved 30-1 an emergency supplemental to address the most urgent, humanitarian needs at our southwest border.

This bill reflects weeks of good-faith negotiations to forge a bipartisan agreement to mitigate an escalating crisis – one where infants and toddlers are sleeping on cold cement floors in wire cages and under bridges. Inaction is simply not an option for those who care about alleviating the suffering of desperate children and families seeking refuge in the United States.

Action in this instance requires compromise. That is the reality in a body where 60 votes is required to move a bill forward. No one is going to get everything they want, including me, but that is the nature of compromise. One thing I am not willing to compromise, however, is our American values. And this bill reflects that.


The Senate supplemental protects unaccompanied children, some of our most vulnerable migrants, by securing funds for their safety and well-being in HHS custody. It includes $109 million to ensure the safety and well-being of those children, through postrelease wraparound services, legal services and case management to place children in loving homes. It puts restrictions on the use of influx facilities and establishes standards of care to ensure children are kept in safe, sanitary facilities where they are properly cared for.

Our bill will mitigate inhumane conditions faced by migrant families in DHS custody by providing funds to improve conditions at its grossly overcrowded facilities and buy food, clothing and medical services for the people in our care. It provides money to ensure that we have diapers, formula, baby wipes and other essential supplies for infants and toddlers. Like the rest of the country, I read in horror the reports from a border facility in Clint, Texas, where the children were unbathed, where sickness was spreading, and where infants were being cared for by other young kids in custody, barely old enough to care for themselves. No child, no matter where they are from, deserves to live in such conditions.

Our bill improves due process for migrants by expanding access to legal services and our immigration courts. It provides grants to nonprofit organizations and local jurisdictions that provide critical services and shelter to migrants released from DHS custody. Bolstering border security and treating migrants with humanity are not mutually exclusive goals. Indeed, accomplishing both – together – is the American way. We can do two things at once.


But it’s apparent that President Trump never got the memo about our American values. Since the day he took office, he has demonized and vilified immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees at every opportunity. Through false and inflammatory tweets and cruel policies, he has worked to instill widespread fear among immigrant communities, targeting asylum seekers as if they were hardened, violent criminals. In just the past week, he threatened widespread arrests of thousands of immigrant families, seemingly without concern for the many families that would be torn apart and the separated children, who are American citizens, who would be left behind. He has backed away from that threat, temporarily, but has promised to revisit it.

And just last week, the Trump administration went to federal court to argue that it should not be required to give detained migrant children toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, towels, showers or proper sleeping conditions when in U.S. custody. That such amenities are not part of the definition of “safe and sanitary” conditions. What would we say if other countries were treating Americans like that?

It has become painfully obvious: President Trump views immigrant families, asylum seekers and refugees not as human beings but as political ammunition intended solely to rile his base. When asked about the horrendous conditions at DHS and ORR facilities and the separation of families, he says it is not true and repeats his threat of mass deportations. He is either willfully ignorant of what has been widely documented or he has no qualms about lying about it.

Not a single one of the president’s anti-immigrant fearmongering tactics would address the very real humanitarian crisis overwhelming our southern border. And this is exactly why the bipartisan Senate supplemental does not provide a single dollar for President Trump’s request for hundreds of millions in additional dollars for the incarceration of immigrants in ICE facilities.

It’s why we did not provide any of his requested funds to pursue misguided policies like “Remain in Mexico” – which law enforcement officials have stated actually encourages illegal crossings. It’s why we included a strict prohibition on the transfer of supplemental funds for any purposes other than addressing the humanitarian crisis at the border. And, finally, it’s why we refused to include any of the deeply harmful, unprecedented changes to our immigration and asylum laws that the president has advocated for.


I am under no illusion that this supplemental bill will address all of the problems with our immigration system. Far from it. It is a temporary solution to address some of the most urgent issues. We need to have a broader debate about comprehensively addressing those problems, just as we did six years ago. Then, a bipartisan group of senators put forward a thoughtful, bipartisan immigration bill. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I held three hearings on the bill and we had five days of markups. The Judiciary Committee considered 212 amendments, 141 of which were adopted, including nearly 50 amendments offered by Republicans. Our process was fair, thorough and deliberate. Sixty-eight senators supported the legislation on the Senate floor. If we could replicate that process today, I suspect 68 senators would do the same again.

But that is a conversation and debate for another day – not one to be rushed in the context of an emergency supplemental meant to address only the most urgent humanitarian needs at our border. Let us first act to provide safe, humane care for migrant children and families seeking mercy and safety.


Yesterday the House passed its own version of an emergency supplemental for the southern border. It is also a very good bill. It goes further in offering protections for immigrants in our care than we were able to in this chamber, due to objections on the other side of the aisle. It provides important, additional protections for children under the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement and for those being held in CBP processing facilities, which I support. We should be taking care of the children in our custody as if they were our own – this should not be a partisan issue.

I am pleased that the House bill also includes a provision to protect the funding that Republicans and Democrats already appropriated to address the causes of migration in Central America – funding the president has threatened to reprogram elsewhere. We were unable to reach agreement on that issue in the Senate. In a few moments, we will have an opportunity to vote on the House bill, and I urge members on both sides of the aisle to support it.

Neither the House nor the Senate bill has any funding for additional ICE detention beds. This is no mistake. The president’s predisposition to turn to mass detention above all else is cruel, irresponsible as well as inefficient and a waste of taxpayer money. Alternatives to detention exist that are safe and less expensive. This administration needs to use the resources it has for ICE detention services to house those people that truly present a danger to our communities, and not lock up every man, woman and child, simply for being here without proper documentation. It makes no sense. We carefully negotiated ICE bed levels in the FY 2019 Homeland Security Appropriations bill just a few months ago, and there is no reason to revisit it now.

We have heard that the administration plans to send up a request to fund more ICE detention beds through reprogramming. I urge my Republican colleagues to join me in opposing any such request. The administration should not do administratively the very thing Congress has rejected. Unfortunately, this is a pattern with this administration. They ignore the will of Congress, using loopholes, ignoring traditional norms in the appropriations process, and using suspect readings of the law to accomplish their agenda when Congress rejected their requests.

Let’s not forget the president’s declaration of a national emergency to fund his wall when Congress refused to provide him the money he wanted. We must stand up for ourselves as an institution. I urge my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to join me saying no to this president when he so blatantly ignores the will of Congress – not as Democrats or Republicans but as U.S. Senators.

I thank chairman Shelby for working with me on this bipartisan humanitarian assistance bill. We need to work quickly to resolve the differences between the House and Senate bills so that we can get a final bill to the president’s desk. And I hope President Trump has the good sense to sign this supplemental bill into law. And then let us turn to the longer, much-needed debate about comprehensive immigration reform.

Finally, I urge members to oppose the Paul Amendment. I ask unanimous consent that my full statement on the Paul Amendment be put in the record.