Meng Secures Amendments in Key Appropriations Bill to Review Disaster Response in Puerto Rico and Help Families Separated at the Border
Jul 26, 2018
Bill now heads to House floor
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, secured three key amendments in the Homeland Security Appropriations bill that would require a review of the federal response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and help those who have been detained and separated from their families after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The bill now heads to the House floor.
Meng’s amendment regarding Puerto Rico would require the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General to issue a report on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) response to Hurricane Maria which struck the island last September. The report would specifically require an assessment of how FEMA could improve its response to appeals for housing aid.
“The response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria was slow and wholly inadequate, and ten months after Puerto Rico was devastated by the storm, our fellow Americans on the island continue to struggle with rebuilding,” said Meng who traveled to Puerto Rico with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) earlier this year to assess recovery efforts. “It is critical to have a detailed review of how FEMA conducted its response, and that we learn what improvements can be made going forward. There were many mistakes and failures with the agency’s performance – from disbursing aid to addressing appeals for housing assistance – and these problems must not repeated for future disasters.”
“When Congresswoman Meng and I visited Puerto Rico in January, we witnessed firsthand the destruction and the inadequate conditions residents were forced to endure: homes with without power or clean water, and communities with damaged hospitals and destroyed schools,” said Congresswoman DeLauro, a cosponsor of Meng’s amendment. “FEMA must be held accountable for its inadequate response to Hurricane Maria. That is what this amendment aims to remedy, and I am proud to have worked with Congresswoman Meng to get it included in this funding bill. By requiring a report on FEMA’s failure to respond to appeals for housing aid, we can help this agency learn from its mistakes and ensure future disaster responses are handled better than this one.”
Another one of Meng’s amendments would require all Department of Homeland Security forms that detained individuals must sign to be printed fully in Spanish and English. These include forms used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Meng introduced the amendment after hearing stories about parents separated from their children being asked to sign forms pertaining to their parental rights, and even their own immigration status, that are not in Spanish, the language that most of these detainees speak or read.
Meng’s final amendment would allow detained parents who have been separated from their children to make free phone calls to their kids. The measure would also allow these parents to confer with counsel over the phone at no cost as well. Meng sponsored the amendment after learning about reports of detained parents not being able to speak with their separated children over the phone because they could not afford the above-market prices charged for such calls.
“It is unconscionable that parents who had their kids ripped away from them at the border remain separated from their children,” said Meng. “But my amendments would provide them with needed assistance while they are detained by ensuring that they know what they’re signing, and making sure they can speak with their children and counsel. I’m hopeful that this legislation will soon be passed by the full House.”
Meng traveled to the border near McAllen and Brownsville, Texas last month where she saw detained children and spoke with parents who have been separated from their kids. She visited the Port Isabel ICE Detention Center and toured the McAllen Border Patrol Station and Centralized Processing Center.
While Meng was pleased that her amendments were added to the bill, she criticized the inclusion of $5 billion for the President’s border wall.
“Spending billions of dollars on a senseless border wall is outrageous,” said Meng. “It will not make our nation safer and it’s a huge waste of taxpayer money that can instead be used for more worthwhile programs such as those which help children and the elderly or initiatives that create jobs and strengthen our economy.”
The Homeland Security Appropriations bill provides funding for the Department of Homeland Security for fiscal year 2019 which begins in October.