A look back: Indivisible Baltimore presses Van Hollen over vote to increase ICE funding

As Congress debates the new DHS spending bill, we look back on a meeting we had with Senator Van Hollen in late July, soon after this bill was voted out of committee. The Senate bill 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. 

Here are excerpts from our meeting with Senator Van Hollen on July 31, shortly after his committee vote supporting this bill:

Indivisible Baltimore: We’ve come here today to say we want to see a harder line on ICE and CBP. They’ve lost credibility in terms of handling responsibilities in an ethical manner. We ask you to oppose any funding increase to these agencies. Maintaining funding with almost no oversight is one thing — increasing funding while they’re committing human rights violations is unconscionable.

IB: We ask you to oppose any funding increase to ICE and CBP. Maintaining funding with almost no oversight is one thing — increasing funding while they’re committing human rights violations is unconscionable.

Senator Van Hollen: I agree with you totally, which is why I went down there. Spoke with a bunch of moms — one of the most emotional meetings I’ve ever had. Also went to the facility with the wire cages, which they call the dog kennel. Then went to the converted Walmart.

We demanded a change in policy. Got them to step back from separation, but bad news is that they still haven’t reunited everyone.  Some parents have been deported before they have a chance to see their kids, and then there’s the issue of not being permitted to apply for asylum.

Did you see Trump’s tweets today? He hates the Senate appropriations bill.  I’m happy to look at details you’re talking about, but Trump doesn’t like it.  Senate bill was pretty much a continuation on these accounts [i.e., ICE and CBP], which is why the President is threatening to shut down the government.  He likes the House bill which provides $5 billion in wall funding.

VH: 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.

VH: The issue with appropriations is that at the end of the day, what happens with homeland security and government shutdown.  Those issue are a ways away, and will be decided in September. If we don’t have the appropriations bill, we’ll have a continuing resolution. The president barely signed it 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 gov’t is a way to achieve our goals.

IB: Right now appropriations bills are moving rapidly, there’s lots of bipartisan cooperation. For us it feels like business as usual despite the fact that what’s going on is beyond the pale. We want to see things [in the Senate] stopped.

IB: Will you use all available procedural tools to slow down or halt senate business until families have been reunited?

VH: The question is how to achieve the goals. If you have a strategy to getting the administration to take these positions, but we’re doing what we can procedurally.

IB: Maybe the Senate needs to stop functioning until families are reunited. Right now appropriations bills are moving rapidly, there’s lots of bipartisan cooperation. For us it feels like business as usual despite the fact that what’s going on is beyond the pale. We want to see things [in the Senate] stopped.

VH: We’re doing what we can procedurally…but I don’t see the connection between shutting down something unrelated and achieving the goal of family reunification. The Trump administration isn’t going to change its policies because we don’t let an EPA appropriations bill through.

VH: We’re not on homeland security right now.  I’m not sure I agree that Trump administration is going to change its policies tomorrow if we don’t let EPA appropriations bill through, or something like that.  Issue is what is the best way to achieve the goal. And I don’t see the connection between shutting down something unrelated and achieving the goal of family reunification. Best strategy we had was shining a light on what was happening, and then the court.  Thank goodness for the ACLU and the other court actions. And continuing to push on the courts and legislatively.  

IB: You say that family separation is a unconscionable and I believe you. I just don’t understand how you could vote to increase ICE funding. Five of your colleagues had the guts to vote against it.  Why didn’t you?

VH: I could have voted against the [DHS] bill if I wanted to. But voting against it wasn’t gutsy. I don’t think they accomplished anything by voting against it. 

IB: But this is an issue of increasing funding to DHS, to CBP/ICE. This agency directly responsible for this crisis

VH: If DHS funding [bill] goes up by itself, there are more opportunities to make changes to DHS, not less. If [the Senate] doesn’t pass the DHS funding bill separately, which also has some minor things on it that are good, then you revert to a continuing resolution.

[Aides inform Senator Van Hollen that he has to leave to attend a floor vote in the Senate. Senator Van Hollen gets up to leave, still making his case.]

IB: We’re just trying to wrap our heads around this. You say that family separation is a unconscionable and I believe you. I just don’t understand how you could vote to increase ICE funding. Five of your colleagues had the guts to vote against it, including Merkley.  Why didn’t you?

VH: I could have voted against the bill if I wanted to. I could have voted against it. It’s not about guts. I’m happy to hear what you have to say about that. But voting against it wasn’t gutsy. I don’t think they accomplished anything by voting against it.

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