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U.S. Senate panel OKs aid for migrant surge at southern border

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U.S. Senate panel OKs aid for migrant surge at southern border
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By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved $4.6 billion (£3.64 billion) in largely humanitarian aid to address a surge of migrants at the southern U.S. border with Mexico, with a vote expected in the full Senate next week.

The legislation does not contain money for Republican President Donald Trump’s border wall construction, and Democrats said it included provisions that would keep the Trump administration from raiding the funds to be used for the wall.

The Trump administration had sought the money last month for programs that house, feed, transport and oversee record numbers of Central American families seeking asylum and straining capacity at migrant shelters in border cities.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican, said on Wednesday that more than 675,000 illegal immigrants had been either apprehended at the border or encountered at ports of entry so far this year, citing Department of Homeland Security numbers.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said lawmakers needed to take action, noting the “deplorable” conditions for migrant families at the border, some of whom are being forced to sleep under bridges or are being placed in outdoor pens without shelter.

Leahy emphasized the package would not fund “the administration’s ineffective detention-first policies,” but instead provides resources for alternatives to detention in order to keep families together.

“And we do not fund President’s Trump’s border wall, which would do nothing to address this crisis,” Leahy added.

The bill includes $2.9 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to help care for unaccompanied children and place them in suitable homes, Shelby said. It also includes $1.3 billion for the Department of Homeland Security to provide food, shelter and medical care to adult migrants that are detained.

There is also $145 million for the Defense Department, which has mobilized to help respond to the crisis, and $220 million for the Justice Department to help process immigration cases and “detain dangerous individuals,” Shelby noted.

The committee approved the bill on a bipartisan vote of 30-1. A vote is expected in the full Senate as soon as next week though it is not guaranteed.

The legislation was the result of a bipartisan agreement between Shelby and Leahy, the panel’s top Democrat. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, spoke in favour of the legislation on the Senate floor.

The Democratic-majority House was not a party to the agreement, however, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday she did not know the details yet.

Democrats last month questioned whether the administration was seeking more funding to expand detention of migrants, but Pelosi has also expressed openness to money for alleviating the humanitarian crisis at the border.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, editing by G Crosse)

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