Congress Thinks the Problem with ICE is that It Doesn’t Have Enough Money

Jonathan Cohn
6 min readJun 30, 2019

On Thursday, eager to leave for the July 4th recess, the Democratic House of Representatives passed a $4.6 billion border supplemental, granting more to ICE and the Border Patrol (as well as to DHS) to address the growing number of children that the Trump administration has kidnapped at the border and held in squalid conditions.

The border supplemental provides $2.9 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services, which manages child prisons. Although improving the conditions of the child prisons is good, the goal should be to stop imprisoning children.

Another $1.3 billion would go to the Department of Homeland Security, a bloated agency that could easily improve conditions based on its own funds. This allocation included $200 million in additional funding for ICE and $110 in overtime funding for Customs and Border Protection — adding to their bloated budgets to better fund their efforts at militarizing the border and terrorizing migrants.

Lastly, the bill allocated $145 million to the Pentagon, including for surveillance and enforcement operations.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus blasted it as “entirely insufficient to protect vulnerable children in our care.”

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus was even more blunt:

“The passage of the Senate supplemental bill is a betrayal of our American values. This bill — opposed by the Hispanic Caucus and nearly 100 Democratic members of the House — will not stop the Trump Administration’s chaos and cruelty. It will not stop the abuse and detention of children. It will not stop the rampant human rights abuses in government custody. It will not stop the Trump Administration from tearing families apart and turning away asylum-seekers. As a result, migrants will continue to die.”

Given that representatives are now heading off to enjoy a holiday celebrating liberty and independence, there is something even more perverse about passing such a Trump-friendly border supplemental.

How Your Representative Voted

The bill passed 305 to 102. 129 Democrats and 176 Republicans voted for it. 95 Democrats and 7 Republicans voted against it. Yes, a majority of the votes came from Republicans.

Here are the 129 Democrats who voted for it.

Note that many of the Democrats elected last year out of a surge of grassroots, anti-Trump Democratic energy just voted to give Trump more money for border militarization, no real strings attached. Perhaps more striking, though, are the erstwhile progressives on the list like Jose Serrano of the Bronx, Bonnie Watson Coleman of the Princeton area in New Jersey, Maxine Waters of Los Angeles, and Katie Porter and Mike Levin of Orange County.

Other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who voted for it were Blunt Rochester, Cartwright, Steve Cohen, Angie Craig, Elijah Cummings, Madeleine Dean, Lois Frankel, Hank Johnson, Dan Kildee, Andy Kim, David Loebsack, Joe Morelle, Jimmy Panetta, Bennie Thompson, and John Yarmuth.

Although 95 Democrats voted against the bill, only 71 voted against a rule teeing it up earlier in the day. (The rule passed 322 to 85.)

So what accounts for the difference?

You might think that there were 24 Democrats who voted for the rule but then against the bill. Simple.

You’d be wrong.

In fact, there were 35 Democrats who voted for the rule but against the bill. Then one Democrat — Norma Torres (CA-35) — who was absent for the first vote was a NO on the final bill. And then you have 12 Democrats who voted against advancing the bill, only to turn around and vote for it.

Those 12 Democrats were Blunt Rochester, Brownley, Cohen, Delgado, Frankel, Keating, Kelly, Malinowski, Porter, Ruiz, Watson Coleman, and Wild.

And here are the 35.

Correspondingly, only 59 Democrats voted against both the rule to tee up the vote and the bill itself:

Voting for Bad, Rather than Ugly

The final border package, which originated in the Senate (more on that later), was noticeably worse than the original House bill, in which the Progressive Caucus had managed to achieve some concessions, such as binding standards of care for all children in custody, limitations on the length of detention, the provision of translators, the facilitation of the prompt release of children to family members wherever possible, and accountability provisions to ensure that if the Trump Administration does not follow said standards, contracts will be terminated for any unlicensed facilities that fail to protect children.

That doesn’t mean the bill was necessarily good. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib all voted against it. Pressley explained the group’s logic clearly:

The Trump Administration traffics in injustice and lies. They have created an untenable situation at the border and children are dying in custody — a practice of cruelty plain and simple. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are not capable nor qualified to manage the care and custody of children and families. Do not believe for one moment that it is not feasible to get these children and families toothpaste and blankets. While I pray that the funding Congress has approved makes it to its intended purpose, the best predictor of the future is the past, and ICE and CBP have a track record of promoting a deep culture of corruption and abuse.

All in all, 230 representatives voted yes, and 195 voted no. In addition to these 4 Democratic NO votes, there were 3 Republican yes votes: Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Will Hurd (TX-23), and Chris Smith (NJ-04).

What the Senate’s Got to Do with It

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s last-minute decision to pass the Senate’s border funding bill largely as is, rather than hold out for the improvements passed by the House, was the result of both internal and external pressures (as well as a longstanding Democratic tendency to cave).

The right-wing of the Democratic caucus, led by Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05), threatened to block any House rule seeking to amend the Senate bill with core accountability and humanitarian language from the House bill. Gottheimer, the Democratic leader of the Problem Solvers Caucus, apparently thinks that our main problem is not enough children being mistreated by the administration.

Although Pelosi merits criticism for folding and conservative House Democrats merit criticism for their general terribleness, the Senate bears a large burden of the blame for how things went down.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who is manifestly unfit to head the party in a moment of crisis, helped usher in a wide bipartisan vote of 84–8 for the Senate’s bill. The 8 NOs consisted of two Republicans (Mike Lee and Rand Paul) and then six Democrats: Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris van Hollen (D-MD), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). The presidential candidates were in Miami, so they were not present for the vote.

Shortly before, the Senate voted on the House version of the border supplemental, and it went down 37–55. Three Democrats voted against it — Markey and Merkley from the left, and Joe Manchin (D-WV) from the right.

With the support for the Senate’s bill so broad and support for the House’s bill insufficient, the Senate clearly had the upper hand. Senate Democrats, even nominally progressive ones like Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), were supporting the Senate’s border supplemental.

That doesn’t mean that Pelosi had no leverage at all. She’s proven in the past that she’s smart enough and capable enough to play hardball when she wants to. She just chose not to. And the Trump administration’s manufactured crisis at the border continues.

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Jonathan Cohn

Editor. Bibliophile. Gadfly. Environmentalist. Super-volunteer for progressive campaigns. Boston by way of Baltimore, London, NYC, DC, and Philly.