Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, was one of 305 House members who voted in favor of a bill to send $4.6 billion in emergency funds to the United States-Mexico border on Thursday.
The bill increases resources for the Defense Department and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and was regarded as a victory for Republicans, who blocked an earlier version of the legislation from Democrats that was more focused on increasing oversight at detention facilities and providing humanitarian aid.
“I’m not opposed to people who are holding out for provisions. I just want to make sure we’re not playing political football against the president or Republicans or even centrist Democrats,” Herrera Beutler said in an interview with The Columbian Thursday morning, before the vote was taken.
The first version of the border aid bill
The congresswoman joined nearly all her Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives on Tuesday in voting against a bill that would have sent $4.5 billion to the southern border.
That bill, H.R. 3401, passed the Democrat-controlled House, 230-195. But it hit the wall against the Republican majority in the Senate, where lawmakers had voted for their own version of a bipartisan bill that gives federal agencies much more leeway in how to spend the money.
Herrera Beutler said she voted against that first House bill because it didn’t include enough funding for teams of immigration judges.
“I felt like it was inadequate. I understand that Democratic leadership in the House need to appease different flanks of their party,” Herrera Beutler said. “They failed to really address the problem, which in my view is getting that backlog down.”
Border detention facilities have drawn a fresh round of criticism recently for inhumane conditions, with reports of children sleeping on concrete floors, being denied medical treatment and going weeks without a toothbrush or change of clothes.
The original House bill focused primarily on the conditions within detention facilities, and the funding provided to federal agencies would have come with strings attached. The Democrats’ bill would have required Customs and Border Enforcement to establish plans for administering health services, hygiene supplies and sufficient nutrition at its facilities.
The House’s first legislation would have additionally funded more translators in customs and immigration offices, as well as tightened standards of care among government contractors. Extending the detention of any minor longer than 90 days in a temporary intake facility would have required a written notification to Congress. Also included in the legislation was a provision that would allow lawmakers to visit detention facilities without prior notice.
The focus on the facilities themselves distracted from a higher priority, Herrera Beutler said — getting asylum requests processed and immigrants released, either into the U.S. or back to their home country.
“The goal shouldn’t be, ‘Let’s put up permanent housing for everyone,’ ” Herrera Beutler said. “You’ve got to get these (cases) processed. Nobody wants to see people detained. We don’t want to keep people. I don’t think there’s anyone arguing for that as a solution.”
The Democrats’ provisions were also unpopular with President Donald Trump, who told The New York Times earlier this week that he’d like the money sent to the border but “there are a couple of points that I would like to get out of it.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, called the first bill “resistance theater.”
Herrera Beutler disagreed with McConnell’s characterization, saying she wouldn’t go so far as to “impugn the motives” of the Democrats who passed the original legislation. But she said she believes the House bill’s focus on facility conditions diverted resources away from solving the judicial backlog of immigration cases, which she considered the bigger issue.
“I think everybody is a little bit right here, and everybody shares the blame,” Herrera Beutler said. “I’ve been here long enough to see immigration gets so manipulated for political ends. It’s a fear-driven thing. And both sides do it.”
What version of border aid passed?
The Senate bill provides $4.6 billion to federal border agencies with far fewer restrictions about how they might spend the money.
The legislation sets aside some funds for the Defense Department, as well as more money for overtime and back pay for ICE officers. Lawmakers are allowed to visit immigration facilities under the bill, but are required to give two days’ notice.
The Senate bill had bipartisan support and sailed to victory Wednesday, 84-8. It passed the House 305-102 Thursday afternoon in what’s been regarded as a defeat for Democrats.
In a letter to lawmakers, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., acknowledged as much.
“The children come first,” Pelosi wrote. “In order to get resources to the children fastest, we will reluctantly pass the Senate bill.”
Trump has indicated he’ll sign the bill.
Herrera Beutler said she would have liked to see a few provisions from the original House bill make it into the final legislation, especially the zero-notice visits from lawmakers. But she wanted something that could ultimately pass, she said.
“I’m not interested in characterizing it the way the Left does or the Right does to make a political point. People are dying,” Herrera Beutler said.
“I’m sure everybody’s going to find stuff to hate about it, but the goal would be to at least have some movement.”