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House appropriations panel takes on family separation issue

July 25, 2018 GMT

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved several provisions to try to mitigate some of the fallout from the child separation crisis at the border, ahead of a key deadline for the Trump administration to reunify parents separated from their children.

The committee approved a broad-based “manager’s amendment” to its 2019 homeland security spending bill that directs the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general to report back within 30 days on interagency coordination on the family separation policy, efforts to reunify families, and President Trump’s executive order intended to halt family separations at the border.

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The amendment from Rep. Kevin Yoder, Kansas Republican, also says siblings should be placed in the same facilities when possible and says funds can’t be used to block members of Congress from entering the facilities to inspect them.

“While I know that there are aspects of this bill that you do not support... we have continued to work together to strengthen support for children and families,” said Mr. Yoder, who chairs the House’s homeland security spending subcommittee.

The committee also adopted an amendment offered by Mr. Yoder and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, California Democrat, that, among other provisions, makes more funding available for mental health services for children being held in federal custody.

A committee report accompanying the broader spending bill already directs DHS to report back within 30 days after the bill is enacted on the department’s policies related to the separation of minor children from their parents while in federal custody.

It also directs DHS, to ensure, when “appropriate and feasible,” that separated families are reunited and transferred before they’re removed, released from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody, or transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.

Ms. Roybal-Allard, the top Democrat on the homeland security spending subcommittee, said she welcomed the new family-related provisions but that Democrats object to other parts of the spending bill, notably new money for President Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall.

From a taxpayer perspective, the most “prominent area of concern” is the $4.9 billion in new border wall funding, said Ms. Roybal-Allard.

“We could do so much more if we didn’t waste money on unnecessary border fencing,” she said.

The bill includes $51.4 billion in base discretionary spending to fund DHS, and an additional $6.7 billion intended for disaster relief.

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The Trump administration said this week it is on track to reunite more than 1,600 parents with their children separated at the border, though Judge Dana Sabraw has expressed concern about more than 450 other parents who could have been deported as their children stayed in the U.S.

The judge had set a deadline of Thursday, July 26 for reuniting children ages 5 to 17 with their parents. The government was already late in meeting a deadline earlier this month to reunify children under the age of 5 with their parents.