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House Passes Bill To Address Border Crisis With $4.5 Billion In Emergency Funding


News from the U.S.-Mexico border about migrant children being held in inhumane conditions has many people calling on the government to act. Last night, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would provide $4.5 billion in emergency funding to address the border crisis and would require better conditions at migrant detention centers there. Only four Democrats voted against the bill, but there were concerns within the party that the legislation didn't do enough to hold the Trump administration accountable for the treatment of migrants. And the bill will likely face opposition among Senate Republicans and from President Trump.

Joining me now is Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who represents the 28th district of Texas. That includes Laredo and other border communities.

Hi, congressman.

HENRY CUELLAR: Good morning. How are you?

KING: Doing OK. I want to ask for your reaction to a picture that many of us have seen this morning. It's an AP photo that appears to show a Salvadorian man and his very young daughter lying face down on the bank of the Rio Grande River on the Mexico side of the border. It's a really distressing photo, and I wonder - have you seen it? And have you thought about how it might affect the debate around what's happening at the border now?

CUELLAR: Yes, I've seen it, and it's just sad. I mean, this shows you how desperate people get. Also, I have some other pictures where I think his wife is on the bank, crying because of what happened. So it's just very, very sad, and that's what we're seeing right now. You know, people are just desperate. And that's why, when they're - get over here - that's why I supported the $4.5 billion. And this is something under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi - we got it done.

KING: Let's talk about getting it done. Let's talk about getting it done. Why did it take so long and for conditions to get so bad - especially when talking about children - to take action on emergency funding, to get this bill passed?

CUELLAR: Well, you know, keep in mind that, you know, when we do the appropriations - and I sit on the appropriations - you appropriate certain amount of money. But it's hard to predict this surge or how many people are going to commit, so therefore, the money is needed.

There were some questions inside the Democratic Party. There were some people that wanted to add certain conditions on this. But again, you know, I live on the border. I don't just go visit the border. So I know the men and women that work down there that, you know, work with - you know, with the kids. And I have to say they're brave. They're compassionate. They're my neighbors, you know, 'cause they live there. So we can't blame the men and women that - trying to do their work over there.

But people have to understand that when people first come across a river, they go into a Border Patrol processing center. Those Border Patrol processing centers - and I think that's what people are referring to - are set up to - you know, to work with people - you know, with a hundred, couple hundred people. They're not set up to handle thousands of them. And quite honestly, this is why the money was needed.

KING: You mentioned who you do not hold responsible for the treatment of the kids down at the border. Who, then, do you hold responsible for that treatment?

CUELLAR: Well, it's not that we're trying to put blame on anybody, but the problem is there are people that blame our men and women in uniform down there - Border Patrol and other folks. I live with those folks. And if they're running out of money to provide diapers and food and all that, that's why we have to provide monies to, you know, the federal agencies, whether it's Health and Human Services that handle the unaccompanied kids in non-for-profit shelters or it's a Border Patrol processing centers. And that's the area that we need to put a lot of money because they're not equipped to handle the thousands of people that are coming in across.

KING: We should note - right now, this bill is just a bill. And you pointed out that there was dissension even among Democrats in the House. What are your hopes for this bill in the Senate and with the president?

CUELLAR: Look. I think we all know how this is going to work out. We have a version, and the Senate has another version. And the Senate actually has a lot of things that we originally wanted because we were talking to the senators about two, three weeks ago before there was questions within the Democratic Caucus. But a lot of it is - we're really not that far apart. I'm telling you we're not that far apart.

So of course, we have one version. They have another version. We're going to sit down. Last night, I got on the phone and talked to Senator Tester about the bill because we have to work out the differences. That's the process. They have a Republican Senate. We have a Democrat House. You have a president that sometimes is unpredictable. You never know what he's going to say or do. But if they let the legislators work this under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi, I feel very strongly we will get this done.

KING: Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas, thank you so much for joining us.

CUELLAR: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.