As Congress prepares to vote Wednesday morning on a new Homeland Security appropriation, the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill is continuing to choose politics over national security, holding the department’s funding hostage unless they get their way on immigration. In the wake of increasing terrorist threats like the attacks in Paris last week, it is reckless to punt on the additional resources DHS requested for things like border guards, customs agents, the Secret Service, and the Coast Guard. Uncertainty about the year’s budget also makes it impossible for DHS to plan for evolving issues, from terror threats to Ebola.Instead of finally holding a vote to fund this critical department, House Republicans are attaching a series of poison-pill amendments to the bill, all of which are designed to stop President Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration from moving forward. Even worse, House leaders are going after the entirety of how the administration has pursued immigration and border enforcement, hampering its ability to prioritize enforcement on serious offenders, and potentially putting hundreds of thousands of DREAMers who received temporary legal protection under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in danger of deportation.
This strategy of attacking the administration’s enforcement policies is mind-boggling—though not surprising, given the House’s inability last year to even consider the bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill, which included the largest border security expansion ever—from members of the House who claim to be border and national security hawks. Put simply, the president’s actions on immigration will actually improve our nation’s security.
The fight against the president’s immigration policy would stop the “Southern Border and Approaches Campaign,” which provides centralized coordination for the multiple national security agencies operating at the Southern Border, to help them coordinate to stop unauthorized immigration and human and drug smuggling. House Republicans are also trying to block a program which would allow the family members of people who serve in our armed forces receive temporary legal protection. Finally, Republicans in the House have set their sights on destroying the centerpiece of the new executive action that expands the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and provides similar protections to parents of U.S. citizen children who have been in the country for at least five years. These change will cover as many as 5 million people.
How does extending temporary protection to another 5 million people help our nation’s security? It brings them out of the shadows. For years, our broken immigration system let 11 million people live in the United States with their identities and backgrounds unknown to the government. Two-thirds of these people have been here for more than ten years, off the books and hard to track. To get a temporary reprieve from deportation and a work permit, these 5 million people would undergo criminal and national security background checks and register with the government. That will let law enforcement waste less time and focus more resources on real dangers like violent offenders and terrorists.
Republican leadership in Congress promised to get things done and to not shut down the government. Yet refusing to fund Homeland Security for a full year stymies or shutters important national security work and denies resources to the men and women sworn to protect Americans every day. All to try and stop an Obama policy reform that will actually make us safer.
Given this past week’s terror attacks in Paris, ensuring that our nation’s homeland security is fully funded is more critical than ever. It’s no wonder that even Republicans such as Rep. Peter King of New York, Mike McCaul of Texas, and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are calling into question the wisdom of holding Homeland Security funding hostage. President Bush’s Homeland Security Secretary, Tom Ridge, put it succinctly: “I would be very, very disappointed if I were Secretary, and the Democrats did it to me.”
Protecting the safety and security of the country and our citizens is the paramount responsibility of the federal government. Yet the agency charged with that duty is struggling for funding because the Republican Congress doesn’t like President Obama’s immigration strategy. If Congressional Republicans want to challenge Obama’s immigration policy, they should pass immigration reform instead of playing politics with national security.
Vikram Singh is vice president for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress.