The street was one that Saul Martinez traveled often. He took it on his way to school, where he would avoid gang members, fearing recruitment. And he’d use it on his way home, where he’d grab his bicycle only to receive death threats from gang members during his ride.
And one day, on that street in El Salvador, the same street he lived on, he saw a man die after being shot multiple times.
Wearing a crisp button-down shirt and khaki pants, the 15-year-old calmly told his story to a panel of Congress members at a Congressional Progressive Caucus ad-hoc hearing Tuesday afternoon. He told of living in fear in a country where gang members recruit young children and where a refusal can have serious consequences.
In April, he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, just one of the tens of thousands of children fleeing Central America’s Northern Triangle to seek refuge in the United States.
“I don’t want to go back to my country because I don’t want to die,” he told the caucus in Spanish Tuesday afternoon.
A hearing of this kind is largely symbolic. But after the last few weeks of political scrambling over an emergency supplemental bill, the ad-hoc hearing put the children back in the spotlight.
On Tuesday, the border crisis was a centerpiece on Capitol Hill, much like it’s been since the July Fourth recess. House Republicans unveiled a plan to allocate $659 million for emergency supplemental funds. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to examine the White House’s policies for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. And political sparring ensued over the possibility of the Senate attempting to add comprehensive immigration reform to any House-passed bill.
There’s little time left before the August recess to reconcile the political divides between the House’s $659 million and the Senate’s $2.7 billion border crisis plan. The possibility of changes to a 2008 anti-trafficking law has become a main sticking point for both parties. House Republicans favor tweaks to allow Central American children to opt for voluntary removal; many Democrats and immigration advocates disagree.
The bill coming to the House floor does not contain “adequate resources” for legal services for children — who often go without representation — nor does it call for a sufficient number of immigration judges, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said at the ad-hoc hearing Tuesday. This issue is more than just politics, Pelosi said.
“It’s not just about having a heart,” she said. “It’s about having a soul.”
The Congressional Progressive Caucus and House Democrats have their eyes on bringing the attention back on the children, which could help build their case that an emergency supplemental with ample funds is needed.
On Tuesday, three children sat in front of members to explain just why they crossed the border and their dealings with U.S. agencies upon their arrival.
Dulce Medina, 15, told of a man in Guatemala who tried to sexually assault her and her cousin while they were walking to her school.
Mayeli Hernandez, 12, told of witnessing two murders in Honduras.
And Saul Martinez told of how there was too little food and one bathroom for 200 children in the U.S. detention facilities’ quarters.
And as the ad-hoc hearing concluded — and though it holds no real political weight — the Congressional Progressive Caucus had thrust the children’s stories back into the limelight. At least for a little while.
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The House has passed a one-week spending bill that will avert a government shutdown which was set to begin at midnight. Lawmakers now have an extra week to come to a longer agreement which is expected to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September. The legislation now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass before President Trump signs it.
President Trump’s portrayal of an effort to funnel more Medicaid dollars to Puerto Rico as a "bailout" is complicating negotiations over a continuing resolution on the budget. "House Democrats are now requiring such assistance as a condition for supporting the continuing resolution," a position that the GOP leadership is amenable to. "But Mr. Trump’s apparent skepticism aligns him with conservative House Republicans inclined to view its request as a bailout, leaving the deal a narrow path to passage in Congress."
Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.