Immigration activists speak to Rep. Thomas Suozzi during a town...

Immigration activists speak to Rep. Thomas Suozzi during a town hall meeting Monday in Huntington. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

At a Monday night town hall-style meeting in Huntington, Glen Cove Rep. Thomas Suozzi defended a $4.6 billion bill designed to help stem the humanitarian crisis at the nation’s southern border as several in attendance said the legislation didn't go far enough.

Suozzi was expected to address a host of issues at the meeting inside American Legion Post 360, including immigration, health care, impeachment, and climate change.

But most of the questions from the standing-room-only audience centered around the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Humanitarian Assistance and Security at the Southern Border Act, which was signed into law July 1 by President Donald Trump.  

Critics at the town hall said the bill should have included more language to protect children housed in detention facilities at the border. Observers who have toured some of the facilities, including several of Suozzi's fellow House Democrats, have said detainees are living in squalid and worsening conditions.

The White House has denied the claims.

At times, audience members interrupted Suozzi,  who prides himself on being a longtime advocate of humane treatment of migrants, as they challenged him to do more to alleviate the current crisis.

“It’s an awful, terrible, rotten situation,” Suozzi said, agreeing with attendee Lisa Eguizabal when she asked: “Can we talk about the children first?” She said minors are being “terrorized and victimized” by current policies and practices in detention centers on the Mexican border.

Suozzi defended his and other Democrats’ votes in favor of the bill as the best option available at the time, adding that he had hoped to get money to help relieve the migrants’ suffering before members of the Senate adjourned for the July Fourth holiday.

“This was a classic example of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he said, adding that another bill sponsored by Rep. Veronica Escobar may go further than the supplemental bill.

Suozzi said a bill proposed by the Democrat-run House of Representatives was all but rejected since the Republican-run Senate declined to consider it. That bill had many more provisions to protect migrants, Suozzi said.

Melanie D’Arrigo of Port Washington, said she had studied the House and Senate bills and concluded the legislation that passed contains very little funding for humanitarian relief, a point Suozzi said he was unaware of and contradicted the elements of a new release issued by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) listing $979 million alone for food, medical services, transportation and other needs.

She contended that a mere 3.5 percent of the funding would go toward humanitarian concerns.

Notably, Suozzi said, the bill does not authorize money for a wall that has been at the top of the president's wish list for immigration reform.

"We had to get this money down there," Suozzi said.

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