Fadila Mrkulic (L) and Tatiana Lambert listen during a viewing party for U.S. President Barack Obama's speech on executive action immigration policy reform at the offices of 32BJ SEIU, a workers union, on Nov. 20, 2014 in New York City.
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GOP tweaks anti-‘amnesty’ bill as experts warn of problems

Updated

Republican leaders are working with Congressman Ted Yoho to retool his bill to block the White House’s immigration executive action ahead of a likely vote this week. Legal experts warned msnbc on Tuesday that the original language was so broad that it could threaten immigrants with deportation in cases where they’d normally gain protection under existing law.

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Yoho, a conservative member from Florida, introduced the Executive Amnesty Protection Act last month, a brief bill that stated that no law “shall be interpreted or applied to authorize the executive branch of the Government to exempt, by Executive order, regulation, or any other means, categories of persons unlawfully present in the United States from removal under the immigration laws.” 

According to immigration attorneys, there are a variety of cases that might fit this description besides the undocumented families affected by Obama’s immigration order. Immigration law gives federal authorities broad discretion to temporarily defer deportations. And examples of groups that often receive relief while their cases are being sorted out include battered spouses and abused children petitioning for a visa through the Violence Against Women Act, victims of human trafficking, or even just immigrants applying to adjust their legal status through marriage. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have each extended temporary deportation deferrals and work permits to Liberians threatened by civil conflict and later Ebola.

“I think there’s some significant impacts on the legal immigration system that broad language like this would have,” Mark Noferi, an Enforcement Fellow at the American Immigration Council, told msnbc. “There are quite a few categories of person that the government does exempt from removal for a short or long period of time.”

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Yoho is currently working with the House Judiciary Committee on the language of his bill and his spokesman Brian Kaveney said some of these concerns were already being addressed.

“Currently the language is still being worked out, but there is an allowance for maintaining immigrants in the United States to be tried for crimes, or to be witnesses at a trial, or for humanitarian purposes on a temporary basis if their lives are imminently threatened,” Kaveney said. 

Kaveney added that the bill “does not take away the Executive Branch’s ability to use discretion on a case-by-case basis,” instead targeting his ability to cover broad “categories” of people out of hand.

But another other issue raised by two experts is that the original language, ironically, might not even accomplish its goal of blocking Obama’s executive action in the first place.

David Abraham, a professor of law at the University of Miami, told msnbc that Yoho’s use of the term “exempt … from removal” to describe affected immigrants may not cover the undocumented immigrants in question. 

“Deferred action, whether as in DACA … or anything else unveiled so far provides no exemption,” he said. “These measures ‘defer…from removal’ as a matter of discretionary prioritization in the enforcement of existing law.”

Related: Americans split on Obama’s immigration action

Marshall Fitz, Vice President of Immigration Policy at the left-leaning American Progress, said the administration would likely argue they weren’t granting a blanket exemption to “categories” as Yoho asserts.

“[The executive action] still requires they be adjudicated on a case by case basis,” he said. “You can challenge the premise that it even achieves what it was intended to do.”

House Republicans have coalesced around Yoho’s bill as their preferred vehicle for combatting President Obama’s new immigration plan, although the still-Democratic Senate is unlikely to take it up and Obama would be sure to veto the bill if it reached his desk.

GOP tweaks anti-'amnesty' bill as experts warn of problems

Updated