House Republicans are moving forward with a bill to prevent President Obama from protecting immigrants from deportation, insisting that he accept the measure as the price of funding the Department of Homeland Security.
"Essentially what it says is the president cannot fund an activity that is unconstitutional and illegal," GOP Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, who chairs the House Rules Committee, told reporters.
Obama announced in November that he would move to temporarily defer deportations for up to 5 million qualifying undocumented immigrants and allow them to work in the country legally. The House, already trending away from immigration reform and towards calls for more deportations, responded in December by passing a bill blocking the move only to see it die in the Senate. Speaker John Boehner assured conservatives at the time that he would renew the fight once the GOP took control of the Senate and pledged Thursday to challenge the president’s immigration order “tooth and nail.”
The new iteration would not only block the new program, but stop new applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which grants relief to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, and reverse a 2011 memo ordering immigration authorities to prioritize deporting criminals.
“Only three words describe the Republican approach to immigrants: deportation, deportation, deportation,” Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois said in a statement.
The White House threatened to veto the House’s earlier measure and would almost certainly do the same for the latest iteration. If Obama and Congress can’t work out legislation to fund Homeland Security, the department will shut down on February 27, although many of its workers are considered “essential” and will stay on the job without pay until the situation is involved. It may not reach Obama’s desk in the first place, however, as bill is unlikely to get the 60 votes necessary in the Senate to overcome a Democratic filibuster should Majority Leader Mitch McConnell bring it up. McConnell has yet to outline how the Senate will proceed.
Some Republican leaders are concerned that threatening to defund the Department of Homeland Security over immigration could put them in politically perilous territory, especially after this week’s deadly terrorist attacks in France. It’s an open question whether the latest move from the House is merely the opening volley ahead of a compromise later or the prelude to a partial government shutdown.
“Whatever we do on that, as far as immigration, cannot in any way be allowed to interfere with our counterterrorism methods,” Congressman Peter King, chair of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, told Fox News Wednesday. “I mean, the juxtaposition would be terrible: a terrorist slaughter in Paris, and the U.S. cuts back on Homeland Security funding.”
The renewed push to crack down on illegal immigration also creates problems for Republicans in 2016. Latino and Asian voters flocked to Democrats in the previous two contests and GOP leaders from RNC chairman Reince Priebus down have warned the party’s hardline immigration position is a major barrier to winning them back. Potential candidates like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have backed legislation granting legal status to undocumented immigrants while others have taken care to avoid tying themselves to the party’s hawks.