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Bill Aims To Improve Conditions For Detained Migrant Children


Congress has approved a $4.6 billion bill to address the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. Most of that money will go to the Department of Health and Human Services, and additional funds will go to the Department of Defense and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. House Democrats had been divided, though, about how this money was going to be spent. Specifically, they wanted to make sure that conditions for migrant children in U.S. custody are going to get better. In the end, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to pass the Senate's version of the bill.

For more, we've got Republican Congressman Tom Reed on the line. He's the co-chair of what's called the Bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

Congressman, thanks for being with us.

TOM REED: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So at the center of this humanitarian crisis at the border are kids, right? I mean, we've all heard the firsthand accounts recently of children held for weeks in overcrowded, warehouse-like facilities, no basic hygiene, sleeping on concrete floors. Does this legislation fix that?

REED: Yes. And we were glad in our group to step forward and say enough of the partisan yelling back and forth. And we came together in a broad bipartisan vote yesterday with getting this money and this relief to the border for these children that are suffering.

MARTIN: But this was the divide in the Democratic Party. They wanted more specifics in terms of what money would specifically go to address those conditions in those facilities. But there are no such specifics, so how can you guarantee that this money is going to affect those kids, specifically in that detention facility that we've been hearing so many reports about in Texas?

REED: Because these resources are going to those agencies who are running out of money as we speak. And that's why the Senate voted overwhelmingly with 84 votes. And what you saw in the Democratic House was that small vocal minority that was just adamant they were going to dictate or use this opportunity to engage in, what I believe, more obstructionism. And it would have taken weeks, if not months, to get this resource, potentially, to the children that needed it today.

MARTIN: An earlier version of the bill, though, had much tougher language for protecting migrant children. Why was that removed?

REED: Because what they do is you give the money to the - for a group of Democrats to try to argue that, somehow, they knew better how to dictate where this money goes as opposed to get the money to the agencies that were out of money if we did not act yesterday, so...

MARTIN: Well, clearly, the agencies don't know how to allocate the money now if they're not using some of that to buy toothbrushes...

REED: The Problem Solvers...

MARTIN: ...For the children.

REED: Rachel, with all due respect, the Problem Solvers Caucus stepped forward and broke the obstruction.

MARTIN: Although, President Trump and the White House conceded that they will agree to making sure that if they are made aware that any child is held over a certain period of time that they'll take action. Why wasn't that codified as part of the legislation?

REED: Because that is common sense. And that was the way to do this. If you had a concern...

MARTIN: But it wasn't happening before.

REED: Of course it was. And to now say, OK, we will agree to do what we're already doing, so...

MARTIN: You know, though, Congressman, that children were being kept there for weeks on end. They were being kept there longer than 72 hours.

REED: With all due respect, this interview sounds like it's part of the obstructionism that we fought yesterday. We got a resource that was in dire need to the border yesterday as opposed to play politics with children's lives, and...

MARTIN: No doubt that money needs to go there.

REED: You wanted to delay this.

MARTIN: I do want to ask a bigger-picture question because although this was urgent, do you see any signs that this Congress plans to tackle comprehensive immigration reform, or are Americans just going to keep seeing what is really reactive emergency measures?

REED: Problem Solvers Caucus is leading the way on exactly that. It's going to take Democrats and Republicans working together to get this done not one extreme portion of the Democratic Party dictating how this goes.

MARTIN: Republican Congressman Tom Reed of New York, we do appreciate your time. Thank you so much for coming on.

REED: Appreciate it very much, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.