- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 7, 2019

Congress left town last month for its Independence Day vacation on a bipartisan high note, having passed a $4.6 billion spending bill to rush humanitarian aid to the U.S.-Mexico border.

All of that goodwill has now faded.

Lawmakers return to Washington this week more divided than ever and facing a series of new immigration policy crises, with an urgency to troubling conditions at the border for illegal immigrants, with President Trump sparking a clash over the 2020 census, and with the Homeland Security Department preparing a round of deportations of illegal immigrant families.

SEE ALSO: Ken Cuccinelli: ICE agents ready to ‘perform their mission’ as deportation reprieve ends

The most immediate issue facing Congress is reports of horrid detention facilities at the border, fueled by an inspector general’s report and by Democrats who visited several facilities last week and claimed women said they were drinking toilet water.

“No matter your political affiliation or views on border security, seeing families and children, including very young children, in overcrowded and unsafe conditions should shock the conscience,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, said in a commentary piece posted online Sunday.

He has vowed to investigate the latest developments and blamed “incompetence” and constant upheaval at Homeland Security, a department with no confirmed secretary or deputy secretary nor any confirmed chiefs at the three immigration agencies.

SEE ALSO: Acting DHS chief defends performance at border

But the situation isn’t as bad as reports suggest, said Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary.

He acknowledged overcrowding, which the inspector general found during a series of visits last month to Customs and Border Protection facilities.

But Mr. McAleenan said the migrants at the facilities are not left to wallow in filth and are not being denied needs.

“What I can tell you right now is that there’s adequate food, water,” he told ABC’s “This Week” program Sunday. He said they also have access to showers, which were added a year ago.

The border processing facilities, generally built in the 1980s and 1990s, were never meant to hold migrants for days or weeks. They were designed at a time when illegal immigrants were chiefly Mexican adults who could be processed and returned to Mexico within hours.

That has shifted over the past few years. Children and families from Central America now make up most illegal immigration across the border, and they cannot be quickly returned.

They are supposed to be sent to other agencies — the families to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and unaccompanied children to the Health and Human Services Department — but both of those agencies have run out of space, leaving the border facilities overcrowded.

The $4.6 billion in emergency money Congress approved late last month is helping.

Mr. McAleenan said CBP had 2,500 children in its custody as of June 1. That number was just 350 as of Saturday, and only 20 of them had been in border custody for more than three days.

This weekend also marked the end of the two-week grace period Mr. Trump granted for deportations. The move was meant to accommodate House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, who asked the president to cancel the deportations. Mr. Trump agreed to a delay but said Congress needed to use the time to pass legislation to curtail the surge of illegal immigrants from Central America.

Congress did pass the $4.6 billion in humanitarian aid for the border, but Mrs. Pelosi has shown no inclination to accept Mr. Trump’s request to tackle the “pull” factors in U.S. law that entice Central Americans to head north.

The president said Friday that means deportations, which target illegal immigrant families defying orders.

“They will be starting fairly soon,” he said.

Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, acting director at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said it was stunning that Mr. Trump’s call to enforce the law against lawbreakers was greeted with outrage and opposition.

“This is just what ICE is supposed to do. The fact that we’ve fallen to the point where we’re talking about it like it’s news tells you how far that we have fallen in the enforcement side,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”

Mrs. Pelosi has cast doubt on most deportations from the interior. She argues that illegal immigrants who don’t amass more serious criminal records should be allowed to stay if they can get past the border.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has shown an urgency for trying to shoehorn a citizenship question onto the 2020 census, setting up another potential clash with the courts.

The president upended things last week when, a day after his attorneys told several judges that the question was out, he said he wanted it as part of the census. His attorneys then returned to the same judges and said the administration was still exploring ways to get the question into the 2020 count.

The effort is a long shot.

One of the federal judges, George J. Hazel in Maryland, has already signaled skepticism and reminded the Trump attorneys that he has an injunction in place prohibiting the question.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has gone to Judge Jesse Furman in New York and asked him to put a stop to Mr. Trump’s push altogether.

The ACLU says the entire case has been fought under the government’s claim that it had to finalize the 2020 questions by June 30. To allow the government to alter its self-imposed deadline would be unfair, the ACLU argued.

“They can’t have it both ways,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s voting rights project.

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