A GOP plan to gut President Obama's unilateral actions on immigration passed through the Republican-led House Wednesday in a largely symbolic vote tied to crucial funding for the Department of Homeland Security.
"We do not take this action lightly, but there is simply no alternative."'
In a final 236-191 vote, lawmakers agreed to keep the department running through September in legislation that includes a set of amendments designed to unravel and block funding to the president's executive measures.
Far-right elements of the party tacked the toxic amendments to dismantle not just the latest immigration actions brought by President Obama, but also a similar initiative from 2012. In sum, the amendments work to prevent millions of undocumented immigrants the right to apply for work permits and seek temporary relief from deportation.
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In a nod to to ultra conservatives who led the charge against the executive actions, House Speaker John Boehner threw his full weight behind the GOP strategy to attack the measures through DHS funding. Speaking on the House floor Wednesday morning, Boehner read out loud the 22 times President Obama has said publicly since 2008 that he is unable to change immigration law by executive action.
"We do not take this action lightly, but there is simply no alternative," Boehner said. "This is not a dispute between parties, or even branches of government. This executive overreach is an affront to the rule of law and to the Constitution itself."
This is just the latest Republican-led effort to kill the Obama administration’s DACA program, short for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Nearly 600,000 young undocumented immigrants have already benefited from the measure. And starting in the late spring, millions more will be able to join once a new initiative opens up to the undocumented parents of U.S.-born children.
The Republican strategy does not come without potential costs. In December, lawmakers in Congress singled out the Department of Homeland Security when it passed a spending bill to keep the government running. The DHS, however, was only bankrolled until Feb. 27 to tee up a GOP-led charge against the Obama administration’s immigration policy. If lawmakers don’t come up with a plan by then, the department will run out of money, affecting more than just immigration enforcement.
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The amendments have virtually no chance of moving forward. Though Republicans now control the Senate, legislation needs 60 votes to pass. That’s not likely to happen. Just as unlikely is for President Obama to sign a bill to walk back his own executive actions before the next phases are even implemented. The White House issued an official veto threat on Monday through the Office of Management and Budget that embraced any plan to keep the DHS funding rolling, but said it “strongly opposes” measures to would bring down the president’s immigration plan.
"Republicans have only been in control for a week and already they are picking an unnecessary political fight that risks shutting down the Department of Homeland Security and endangering our security," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement. "Republicans should stop playing games and pass a clean bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security because the pointless, political bill passed in the House today will not pass the Senate."
More moderate Republicans have yanked their support of their party’s strategy over the last week for placing DHS funding -- and therefore national security resources -- in jeopardy. In light of the terrorists attacks the roiled Paris all of last week, lawmakers said they would not like to see the funding under threat for the agency tasked with keeping the U.S. safe.
"The votes the Republicans are taking ... are really a vote against my parents, against me, against millions of people who are eager to get that relief from deportation."'
The most contentious amendments brought by Republicans zero in on the funding used to implement the immigration actions. One measure, brought by Republican Reps. Robert Aderholt of Alabama, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, and Lou Bartletta of Pennsylvania, withholds any resources or fees from being allocated to the president’s unilateral actions.
Another, even more controversial amendment championed by Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn would unravel the existing DACA program and prevent enrollees from being able to renew their applications. DREAMers, undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and who for the first time have been able to get jobs, pay their taxes and seek driver’s licenses, would see those benefits suddenly taken away. More importantly, it would leave hundreds of thousands of immigrant teens and millennials suddenly facing the threat of deportation.
A somewhat significant number of Republicans -- 26 in total -- dissented from the party line on Blackburn's amendment. No Democrat voted in support. The amendment only narrowly passed, 218 to 206; a sign that a growing number of Republicans, many from Latino-heavy districts, hope to take a more moderate stance on measures that attack DREAMers.
Immigration advocacy groups joined House Democrats on Capitol Hill Wednesday to condemn the actions taken against immigrant families. During a press conference Cristina Jimenez, managing director of the group United We Dream, issued a warning to Republicans that groups like hers won't soon forget votes to undercut the programs that benefit the Latino community and that the steps taken Wednesday could impact the GOP ahead of the 2016 elections.
"The votes the Republicans are taking to attack the president's executive actions to dismantle DACA and DAPA programs are really a vote against my parents, against me, against millions of people who are eager to get that relief from deportation," Jimenez said.