Activists join in a protest to denounce the Trump administration’s immigration policies in Washington. Image Credit: New York Times

WASHINGTON: A divided House voted on Tuesday to send $4.5 billion in humanitarian aid to the border to address horrific conditions facing a crush of migrants, attaching significant rules on how the money could be spent, in the first action by Democrats to rein in President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown.

But the package - which passed by a vote of 230-195 nearly along party lines, only after Democratic leaders toughened restrictions on the money to win over liberal skeptics - faces a tough path to enactment.

House Democrats, in approving the aid package, said they were finally acting to block what they saw as Trump’s cruelty on the border.

But the House bill faces a veto threat from White House advisers, who regard the Senate bill as the surest way to speed the needed aid to strapped agencies dealing with the migrant influx.

You know, they [border facilities] were built by President Obama; they are really not designed so much for children.

- Donald Trump, US President

Hours before the House bill passed, Trump said that he did not like some of the restrictions that lawmakers were seeking to place on the humanitarian funding but that he badly needed the resources.

“There are some provisions, I think, that actually are bad for children,” Trump said in an interview for a coming book about his immigration policies. “There are a couple of points that I would like to get out of it, but I also have to get the money to be able to take care of children and families.”

Amidst the turmoil, immigration hardliner taker over border protection

While the House debated, the Trump administration again overhauled the leadership responsible for border policies, naming an immigration hard-liner and former Fox News contributor, Mark Morgan, as acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Morgan has been pushing for the nationwide deportation raids that Trump delayed last week.

“The president’s cruel immigration policies that tear apart families and terrorise communities demand the stringent safeguards in this bill to ensure these funds are used for humanitarian needs only - not for immigration raids, not detention beds, not a border wall,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The back-and-forth over the measure highlighted the bitter partisan strife as well as the internal divisions in both parties incited by Trump’s immigration agenda, which have been placed in stark relief this week by disturbing images of migrants living in squalour and inhumane conditions. A photograph that surfaced Tuesday of the drowned bodies of a man and his toddler daughter lying face down on the banks of the Rio Grande further inflamed the debate.

Meanwhile, the children are shuffled back...

At the border station in Texas that has become the center of debate over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, a chaotic shuffle of migrant children continued on Tuesday as more than 100 were moved back into a facility that days earlier had been emptied in the midst of criticism that young detainees there were hungry, crying and unwashed.

The transfer came just days after 249 children originally housed at the station in Clint, Texas, had been moved to other facilities to relieve overcrowding. The continuing movement of children and confusion over housing of the Border Patrol’s youngest detainees pointed to a disorganised situation along the southern border and an agency struggling to maintain minimal humanitarian standards amid an unprecedented influx of migrant families.

“We’ve dipped far below the standard of care into the realms of just utter darkness,” said state Representative Terry Canales of Texas, a Democrat who contacted Border Patrol officials to ask what he and his staff could do to help.

No diapers from outside sources

From across the country, donations of diapers and other supplies began flowing in - though Customs and Border Protection agents said they could not accept outside supplies and initially refused the growing stockpile. More than a dozen people drove into South Texas from as far away as the West Coast to deliver aid and launch protests.

The Clint facility houses only a fraction of the tens of thousands of migrants who have been crossing the border each month. But the lawyers’ observations of the conditions there offered a rare view into a system that has been deteriorating for the most part out of sight of the public.

Trump refused to take responsibility for the conditions facing migrant children and families at border facilities. “You know, they were built by President Obama; they are really not designed so much for children,” Trump said Tuesday.

A CBP spokesman said the agency was able to return 100 children to Clint because the previous overcrowding had been alleviated, but he also said no additional resources were being provided to them. He disputed the accounts of the lawyers, who after a court-ordered visit to the facility earlier this month said they had observed children who had not been allowed to shower in nearly a month and were so hungry that it had been hard for them to sleep through the night.