Republicans in the House on Wednesday sent another signal that there’s virtually no chance of a deal on immigration reform this year.
The House passed a bill that is related to immigration policy, but it is not the type of fix that pro-reform advocates hoped that Congress would take up this year.
The bill, titled the Enforce the Law Act, instead seeks to curtail the Obama administration’s use of executive power on a broad range of issues, including immigration. Republican supporters said the measure was partly designed to crack down on prosecutorial discretion in enforcing immigration law, such as Obama’s decision to grant deportation relief to certain undocumented young people in 2012.
“The president has decided not to enforce immigration laws as they apply to entire categories of individuals,” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said on the House floor.
The proposal is largely symbolic: it does not stand a chance of passing the Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House has warned that Obama will veto it if they do.
Instead, it sends a message that providing legal status to undocumented immigrants or streamlining the visa system are not urgent priorities for Republicans. That runs contrary to principles released by GOP leaders in January, which would allow many young undocumented immigrants to pursue citizenship.
The Enforce the Law Act, for example, would make it easier for House Republicans to sue Obama over his deportation relief program for young peopl, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
“We cannot fix our broken immigration system, either with more deportations or with specious constitutional arguments, which is exactly what Republicans are attempting to do today,” said Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.)
Democrats have long been frustrated by House Republicans resistance to bringing up immigration proposals beyond those that crack down on immigration enforcement. Last year, Republicans offered an amendment that would have defund the DACA program and before today, hardly any other immigration-related bills have reached the floor.
The debate comes at a time when President Obama is under pressure from immigrant-rights advocates and members of his own party to use his executive authority to further cut back on deportations. Republicans don’t want that to happen, arguing it would be a violation of the law.
Yet their efforts got advocates to turn their attention away from Obama and back to Republicans, at least for today.
“At every turn, it’s clear that the House Republican leadership is hell-bent on doing damage to the immigrant community,” Maria Fernanda Cabello, a recipient of deportation relief and organizer at United We Dream, said in a statement. “They’re moving in the opposite direction by once again seeking to undo the deferred action program that has protected hundreds of thousands of young immigrants like myself from deportation.”
Despite internal divisions, GOP leaders like Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) have said that they are still trying to find common ground to pass an immigration overhaul.
But if today’s debate is any indication, the only thing that House Republicans agree on when it comes to immigration is that they do not trust President Obama and they fear he’ll impose broad “amnesty” on his own.
That’s not a positive sign that Republicans are willing to upend their rip-Obama election year strategy and forge a bipartisan compromise on immigration reform.
This piece was updated at 5:20 pm.
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.