Overnight Thursday, lawmakers dropped a massive, 1,700-page funding and border security package. The legislation, known as a “conference report,” was crafted by leaders in both the House and Senate in hopes of avoiding a second shutdown of government agencies. The bill needs to pass both chambers and be signed into law by President Donald Trump.
It’s a tanker truck of a bill, loaded with seven different hefty appropriations measures. And it walks some careful political lines, especially on immigration. While money for border barriers and detention space made headlines, a deeper read shows the bill also aims to decrease some types of detention and requests better detainee treatment and facilities.
We have been studying the bill carefully so you don’t have to. Here are some highlights and key details.
Size: The bill is 1,159 pages, and the accompanying report is 609 pages.
- $1.375 billion in funds, all for projects in the Rio Grande Valley.
- This would fund 55 miles of barriers, partly on land and partly on levees because of what is left there.
- Those barriers can’t be built in several parks or nature reserves, including the National Butterfly Center.
- The Department of Homeland Security must consult with several small cities that are in line for new fencing about designs — at least until Sept. 30, 2019.
- Funds 200 border patrol agents who were hired earlier this year.
- Does not fund new border patrol agents for the rest of the year.
- Funds 600 new customs agents for this year. The bill also funds additional recruiting to help fill some 600 open slots.
- Total new customs agents: the goal is 1,200.
- Funds space to detain a daily average of 45,274 people for the year. (Current funding covers 49,000 detainees per day. Last year it was 40,000. (Here’s more on that issue.)
- A 22-percent increase in alternatives to detention program. (That covers up to 100,000 people, an increase from 82,000 last year).
- $30 million for family case management support.
- $192 million for a new Customs and Border Protection processing and holding site in El Paso, Texas, meant especially for families and unaccompanied minors.
Treatment of detainees
- The 609-page report (officially called the “Explanatory Statement”) accompanying the bill includes some unusual language referencing detainee conditions. This report is part of the official guidance Congress sends agencies.
- Ice boxes and cages: Customs and Border Protection’s “facilities should be equipped with appropriate temperature controls and avoid chain-link fence-type enclosures.”
- Blankets and warmth: “CBP is encouraged to use a more appropriate blanket type than currently used.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
- ICE gets 112 new health staff at detention facilities.
- Requires agency to file weekly reports on detainees and a monthly report on family separations and minor referrals.
- An increase of $95 million over last year for “custody operations” (a 3 percent increase over last year).
- Funding for 50 new judges over last year’s amount.
- Priority for hiring must be in highest workload areas.
Humanitarian relief at the border
- $414 million in funding for humanitarian aid.
- That includes $128 million for medical staff for Customs and Border Protection, $40 million for food, formula and diapers and $24 million for increased transportation between detention facilities.
- Gives 1.9 percent federal worker pay raise for calendar year 2019 (retroactive to January). Vice President Mike Pence gets the same raise, and got his own section in the bill.
- $1 billion increase for the census.
- Six days of postal service delivery. (No change).
- Transportation Security Administration: 1,144 new TSA officers, 50 new canine teams and 203 new hi-tech CT (computed technology) scanners.
- Marijuana: keeps a past provision banning the Drug Enforcement Administration from making arrests for medical marijuana in states where it is legal.
- Abortion: keeps Hyde Amendment language, which blocks federal funding for abortions except to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest.