Intensifying a dispute over federal immigration policy, the House has passed legislation that would cut off funding to implement President Obama’s 2014 immigration directives and end a two-year-old program that shields illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. as children from being deported.
When Obama announced his plan last year, construction industry officials warned that the ensuing controversy could dim the Capitol Hill outlook for comprehensive legislation to revamp immigration policies.
The new House immigration provisions are included in a bill funding the Dept. of Homeland Security through the end of the fiscal year. The House approved the measure on Jan. 14 by a 236-191 vote that split largely along party lines.
The White House strongly criticized the bill’s immigration provisions and has said Obama would veto the measure if it were to get to his desk with that language intact. Leading congressional Democrats also blasted the House provisions.
The next legislative step would be action by the Senate, which now has a Republican majority. But the shape of a Senate DHS spending bill—and whether it would include immigration provisions like the House’s—are unclear.
If a measure similar to the House’s should clear the Senate, Democrats there have enough votes to block a veto override attempt, which would require a two-thirds majority.
The fight could stall action on the guts of the bill, the $39.7 billion it contains to keep DHS operating through Sept. 30. That total is up $400 million from the enacted 2014 total for the department.
DHS needs to have appropriations enacted by Feb. 27 when its current stopgap continuing resolution runs out or else some of its operations would have to shut down.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement, “The underlying DHS appropriations bill…although not perfect—could certainly pass both chambers and be enacted into law with the president’s signature.”
But Thompson said the immigration riders were “poison pill amendments” that ensure “the DHS shutdown showdown continues.”
At the center of the storm are two amendments that the House added to the spending measure. One, sponsored by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), would bar funding for Obama’s immigration executive orders, which he announced on Nov. 20.
Those directives would, among other things, expand deportation protection to several million more immigrants now in the U.S. illegally, if they meet conditions such as registering with the government, passing background checks and paying taxes owed.
The House passed Aderholt’s amendment by 237-190.
The other adopted amendment, from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), would close off the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides temporary protection against deportation for the “Dreamers”—immigrants who arrived illegally in the U.S. as children.
Under the program, those individuals can avoid being deported for two-year renewable periods, if they attend school or meet other criteria. Blackburn’s rider passed by a slender 218-209 margin.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been incensed about Obama’s immigration actions ever since the president announced them Nov. 20. In a floor statement on the new bill, Boehner said of Obama’s directive, “This executive overreach is an affront to the rule of law and to the Constitution itself.”
But Terry O'Sullivan, Laborers' International Union of North America general president, criticized the House bill for its "anti-immigrant amenments." He said in a Jan. 15 statement, "Tying the attack on immigration relief to continued funding of our nation's security is offensive and irresponsible."
O'Sullivan called on Congress to begin work on comprehensive immigration legislation that includes "a path to citizenship," border security and other provisions.
Cecilia Munoz, White House domestic policy director, told reporters in a conference call after the House vote that the administration “is going to continue to implement the executive actions because the president believes they are not only well within his legal authority, but they are they right way to fix what he can fix of our broken immigration system.”
Munoz added that the bill would reverse the deferred-action program, which, she said, “has allowed 600,000 people to come forward, pass background checks, become taxpayers, get work authorization and become fully contributing members of our society and economy.”
Referring to the House action as “political theatre,” she said, “The priority of the administration is to fund the [DHS] and there’s no reason to tinker with the executive actions at all.”
Andrew Mayock, an Office of Management and Budget associate director, said that until a new DHS funding bill is approved, more than $2 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency grants will “lie waiting” and unavailable for states and localities to request.