On July 31, Senator Van Hollen voted in favor of a DHS appropriations bill in committee that increased funding to ICE and CBP by over $370 million and included provisions to add several hundred more border agents and officers at a time when abuses at the border were being uncovered. In the committee vote, Senator Van Hollen voted in favor of this bill, while five of his fellow Democrats on the committee voted against it.
We came to Senator Van Hollen to ask that he take a harder line on ICE and CBP. Following revelations of the forced family separation policies, we felt these agencies had lost credibility in terms of discharging their responsibilities in an ethical manner and that increasing funding while they’re committing human rights violations is unconscionable.
Senator Van Hollen agreed that what ICE and CBP were doing at the border was incredibly unethical and abusive. He reminded us that he recently visited the border with Senator Merkeley and saw first hand the conditions of the detention centers there. He maintained that the public outcry lead the administration to halt their separation policy, but that they still had not done enough to reunite all the affected families.
He disputed our assertion that the appropriations bill increased ICE and CBP funding (it did), and asserted that the alternative to passing the appropriations bill would be either a continuing resolution or a government shutdown
“If we don’t have the appropriations bill, we’ll have a continuing resolution. The president barely signed [the CR] last year, and he’s threatened to veto it this year. If he vetoes it, it’s a shutdown, and I don’t believe shutting down the government is a way to achieve our goals.” – Senator Van Hollen
We argued that appropriations bills are moving rapidly, and there’s lots of bipartisan cooperation – that it feels like business as usual despite the fact that what’s going on, such as the family separation policy and the construction of large scale detention facilities, is beyond the pale. We pressed Van Hollen to use all procedural tools at his disposal to halt senate business until all families have been reunited.
Van Hollen disputed the idea that holding up Senate business would force the administration to change its policies. He stressed that public outcry and the courts were the best avenue for getting justice for the separated families.
We reminded him that five of his Democratic Senate colleagues voted against this DHS appropriations bill and asked him why he could not do it. He stressed that he felt voting against the bill accomplished nothing.
The meeting ended shortly after. We urged the Senator to strongly consider voting against the appropriations bill when it comes to a full vote in the Senate if it still contains an increase in funding for ICE and CBP.
Update: Because of a last-minute demand by the White House to include funding for the wall in mid-December, this bill never came to the Senate for a full vote, eventually leading to a partial government shutdown of a number of agencies, including DHS.