Immigration

Why These Republicans Rejected House Members’ Extreme Anti-Immigrant Agenda

CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee

Protester at a sparsely-attended "Sheriffs Against Amnesty" event.

On a 236-191 vote, House Republicans voted through a Department of Homeland Security spending bill that funds the agency through the end of the fiscal year Wednesday, tying the bill with amendments that would repeal the president’s executive actions on immigration. Notably, eight of the ten Republicans who voted against the funding bill did so because they rejected the attached anti-immigration provisions.

Though all five amendments passed, the one amendment that received the most opposition was also the one that exclusively rolls back President Obama’s existing 2012 executive action for the undocumented community. More than two dozen Republicans opposed Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s (R-TN) amendment, which strips away the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that has already granted temporary legal presence and work authorization to more than 600,000 undocumented immigrants. Other approved amendments tackled Obama’s executive actions, holding up critical funding that could encourage immigration officials to go after undocumented immigrants regardless of current deportation priority policies.

The ten Republicans who opposed the funding bill were: Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Mike Coffman (R-CO), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Jeff Denham (R-CA), Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL), Robert Dold (R-IL), Renee Ellmers (R-NC), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and David Valadao (R-CA).

Ahead of the vote, Denham said, “I don’t believe this is the right place to have the immigration debate. We are overreaching into an area that goes above and beyond what we’re trying to accomplish with the Homeland Security bill.” And Politico reporter said that Valadao couldn’t support proposals that uses resources in “such an irresponsible way.”

Denham, Ros-Lehtinen, and Valadao were the only three Republican supporters on the House-Democrat sponsored comprehensive immigration reform bill last year. They also represent districts with heavy Latino presence, a group that is most affected by the broken immigration system.

Coffman said, “We have an opportunity here to say not just what we’re against but what we’re for, and I think we ought to do something affirmative in putting forward the kind of legislation that would allow these young people to stay in the country.” In press statements released in English and Spanish after the vote, Coffman also said that Congress should “have had an opportunity to pass a version of the DACA program into law.”

Amash and Massie insisted that they voted in opposition to spending and not over deportation policy. But just two years ago, Amash wrote a letter to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) encouraging him to find a way to “reasonably address the reportedly 11 million people” and to consider “providing a legal status, upon certain conditions … that may not include full rights of citizenship, to people who are currently here.”

Curbelo said in a statement that he was “troubled with the Administration’s use of executive action on immigration,” but that Congress should address immigration “through separate bills.”

Ellmers previously came out in favor of legalization for undocumented immigrants, winning her primary by 18 points over her challenger. At the time, she told business and community leaders that it was “not possible” to deport 11 or 12 million undocumented immigrants “because they have built their lives here, they have built their families here.”

And according to a New York Times correspondent, Dold voted against the funding bill stating that the party’s immigration strategy fosters brinksmanship. He also said that deporting immigrant children was the wrong approach. In an earlier interview with the Chicago Tribune, Dold said, “We have to do something for the DREAMers and people who get advanced degrees here and then go home and compete. We want them to innovate here and create jobs here.”

Even before Diaz-Balart opposed the funding bill, he had already been planning to pitch a comprehensive immigration bill palatable to House Republicans. But that proposed legislation “imploded last summer,” Roll Call noted.

Potential 2016 nominees Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and Marco Rubio have not yet weighed in on Wednesday’s vote.

But other top Republicans have. Launching into a lengthy speech on the 22 times that the president said he couldn’t take executive action on immigration, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said on the House floor Wednesday, “This executive overreach is an affront to the rule of law and to the Constitution itself.” Yet only a year prior, he released a set of immigration reform principles to overhaul the nation’s immigration system and to provide legal status to DREAMers,or undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) pointed out the hypocrisy on the House floor Wednesday, “one year later, you want to take away from 600,000 DREAMers their right to live in this country. You want to deport them all. What happened?”

The vote drew consternation from the White House with Press Secretary Josh Earnest stating during a press gaggle on the flight to Iowa with the President, “If Republicans were to get their way, these individuals, including DREAMers who came to America through no fault of their own, would either be pushed back into the shadows, free of any accountability, or deported at great expense to taxpayers and at the expense of a concentrated effort to deport criminals. This vote is bad policy. It’s essentially a vote for amnesty. It’s also bad politics.”

More recently, President Obama’s executive action announcement in November won praise from top Republicans who urged congressional leaders to pass an immigration bill. Former President George W. Bush’s Attorney General Alberto Gonzales noted soon after the announcement that the “best thing Congress can do… is pass a comprehensive bill.”

Supporting the president’s latest executive action could provide a massive economic boost to states represented by the Republicans who opposed the funding bill. Based on data from the White House Council of Economic Advisors, California stands to gain anywhere between $11.7 billion to $27.5 billion after executive action takes place; Florida would gain $4.3 billion to $10 billion; Michigan would gain $2.3 billion to $5.4 billion; Colorado would gain $1.6 billion to $3.7 billion; Illinois would gain at least $3.8 billion; North Carolina would gain $2.5 billion to $5.9 billion; and Kentucky would gain $980 million to $2.3 billion.