House Republicans show no mercy for undocumented immigrants

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The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to block several Obama administration programs that shield undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The chamber passed two measures that would cut off funding for President Obama's programs that allow undocumented immigrants to live and work in the United States and set priorities for which immigrants should be deported.


The language was attached to a $39.7 billion bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, which the House passed Wednesday afternoon. Congress has until Feb. 27 to come to an agreement to fund the department before money runs out.

The White House has already threatened to veto the House Republicans' immigration plan and the measure is unlikely to attract enough votes in the Senate to avoid a filibuster.


Still, the House's votes sent a message that Republicans are unafraid to fight Obama's immigration policies even though some political pundits and advocates say that such a battle could further erode the party's image with Latino voters.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) rallied Republicans to vote for the proposals in a rare floor speech Tuesday morning. Boehner aimed his criticism on the president's decision to act unilaterally and not the immigration programs themselves.

“This executive overreach is an affront to the rule of law and the Constitution itself," he said.

While the votes pleased conservatives who have clamored for a battle over Obama's immigration policies, many centrist Republicans bucked their party on the vote, fearing that the measures went too far. Twenty-six members of the GOP voted against ending a program that grants deportation relief and work permits to young people, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).


Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who voted against the immigration provisions, said they put funding for the Department of Homeland Security at risk.

"This appropriations bill now shoves the Department of Homeland Security, and the brave men and women charged with our nation’s security, into the middle of the immigration debate," he said in a statement. "This is unfair to them as they work to keep us safe.”


Most of those in opposition came from states with sizable or growing immigrant populations, such as Florida, California, New York, Illinois and North Carolina. A dozen votes against defunding the program came from lawmakers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as well.


Over 600,000 young undocumented immigrants have been approved for deportation relief under the DACA program, according to government data. If the Republican measure were to become law, those people could not re-apply for protection, meaning they could become eligible for deportation, and no new applications would be accepted.

In November, President Obama introduced a much broader deportation relief program, which would give an estimated 5 million undocumented immigrants the chance to live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation. The program is set to start accepting application in the spring.


Republicans also targeted a 2011 Obama-administration policy known as the "Morton memos." The series of policy directives instruct immigration agents to focus resources on criminal immigrants and recent entrants, opposed to non-criminals with roots in the U.S. On Wednesday, the House voted to undo that prioritization of enforcement.

An amendment cutting off money for both of these policies passed 237-190.

Although the Republican measures face a slim chance of passage, they threaten to roll back many of the achievements wrangled by immigrant rights groups over the past six years.


The stance will hurt the GOP in the long run, according to Cristina Jiménez, the managing director of United We Dream, an immigrant youth-led organization.

“Last year, I was able to look my mother and father in their eyes and tell them that our community won and that they would be protected from deportation," she said in a statement. "Do GOP leaders think that there won’t be a political price to pay for votes to deport millions of parents like mine?"


The vote hasn't resolved deeper disputes among Republicans. On Thursday, GOP members of the House and Senate leave for a two-day retreat in Hershey, Pa., where leadership hopes to to broker agreement on the agenda for the coming year.


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.

Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.