By  Michelle Serrano - July 1, 2019

Last week, Congressman Filemón Vela voted against a bill that would reimburse cities for funds spent responding to the humanitarian crisis at the border while also giving ICE and the Department of Defense hundreds of millions for more child jails and dangerous border militarization. 

The Equal Voice Network thanks him for his vote.

For over a year now Rio Grande Valley communities have greeted, fed, clothed and comforted thousands of asylum-seeking families who found themselves on our doorsteps. These families’ brief visit with us was blessed by the goodness of groups ranging from the Angry Tías to the Catholic Charities Respite Center, from Team Brownsville to Good Neighbor Settlement House, West Brownsville Baptist Church, and the Ozanam Center and many, many others.

Amongst those offering RGV hospitality were the cities themselves, most notably McAllen and Brownsville, with police and transportation support, medical attention and the many other details that go with addressing the needs of these guests.

Just last week a bill was making its way through Congress that would offer financial reimbursement to those entities that have expended a considerable amount of money in the care of the families. On Thursday, the House voted in favor of the Senate’s version of the bill. 

Representative Filemón Vela, along with many other colleagues, voted against that bill.

The RGV Equal Voice Network Thanks Congressman Vela for his thoughtful vote, for the bill that was passed is a bad bill. It is a bill that contains none of the needed protections for migrant children and none of the measures that would assure that the monies would be spent on humanitarian needs and not on further militarization of the border. In the hands of Donald Trump—who believes he benefits politically from the image of a chaotic border—this bill and the unrestricted funds it provides will likely make the humanitarian crisis worse.

The bill provides $144.85 million to the Department of Defense that will go toward building and operating jails (most likely in the form of tent camps) for immigrant families and unaccompanied children on army and air force bases, this despite whistleblowers’ repeated warnings that such facilities cause children and families grave harms.

The bill provides $209 million for ICE, including $70 million for personnel costs without any restriction on use and $21 million for funding for Homeland  Security Investigations despite evidence that such funds are likely to be used to disrupt family reunification processes.

The bill provides more than $2 billion for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) for expanding the supply of shelters for unaccompanied children, but with only anemic protections, such that ORR maintains authority to operate so-called “influx facilities” that are not state licensed and not compliant with the child welfare protections provided in the Flores settlement for periods of up to 14 months. This will allow the creation of more horrific child jails like the one in Homestead, Florida.

While the bill does provide $30 million in grants administered through FEMA for localities and organizations providing humanitarian assistance to recently-arrived migrants, and while those funds will be gratefully received by our communities, nonetheless, these positive provisions cannot overcome the scope of the harms that are a part of this bill. If we are to truly honor the resolve of our cities to fulfill our humanitarian responsibilities to children and families at our doorstep, we will not give Donald Trump unrestricted resources to make the humanitarian crisis worse. In the end, it will be new immigrants and the border communities serving them that will suffer.