More than 143,000 Department of Homeland Security employees could be impacted if Republicans don’t act on a department funding bill stripped of anti-immigrant elements, President Barack Obama warned at DHS headquarters on Tuesday. Calling out House Republicans for “playing politics” by tacking on amendments that roll back protections for undocumented immigrants through the president’s executive actions, Obama urged Congress to avoid a shutdown by passing a clean bill to fund the organization through the rest of the 2015 fiscal year, rather than to risk “jeopardiz[ing] our national security over this disagreement.”
“The men and women of America’s homeland security apparatus do important work to protect us, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress should not be playing politics with that,” Obama said. “Until they [Congress] pass a funding bill, it is the end of a paycheck for tens of thousands of frontline workers who will continue to get — to have to work without getting paid.”
Current DHS funding will expire on February 27. House Republicans passed a bill last month that would fund the department through September, but that bill likely won’t have a chance in the Senate because it came with five amendments attached that seem to limit or thwart Obama’s immigration power. All 46 Senate Democrats signed off on a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) last week stating that taking on the president’s action should be a separate fight from funding the DHS agency, especially in light of recent terror attacks.
Obama added, “Over 40,000 Border Patrol and Customs agents. Over 50,000 airport screeners. Over 13,000 immigration officers. Over 40,000 men and women in the Coast Guard. These Americans aren’t just working to keep us safe, they have to take care of their own families. The notion that they would get caught up in a disagreement around policy that has nothing to do with them makes no sense.”
“’As one Republican put it, if they let your funding run out, ‘it’s not the end of the world,’” the president said, referencing a statement that Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) made to Politico last week on how a shutdown wouldn’t affect department operations. The president said later, “But if they don’t agree with me, that’s fine, that’s how our democracy works. You may have noticed they usually don’t agree with me. But don’t jeopardize our national security over this disagreement.”
DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has stated that the current House-approved bill is “unworkable.” And three former DHS Secretaries: Tom Ridge, Michael Chertoff, and Janet Napolitano, also wrote a letter asking Republicans not to risk national security over an immigration fight.
Immigrant advocates have slammed some of the attached amendments for repealing the president’s executive actions to grant temporary work authorization and deportation relief for qualified undocumented immigrants. The president’s first executive action, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, has thus far granted benefits to over 600,000 recipients. His latest executive action is expected to help millions. Democratic lawmakers have especially seized on the opportunity to argue that Republicans are using the funding bill to deport undocumented immigrants. Notably, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) has vowed to highlight the story of a DACA recipient every day that the Senate is in session to show the impact made by taking away the program.
The budget is not the only place House Republicans are taking on Obama’s executive actions. They are holding a series of hearings in the House Judiciary Committee and the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security this week and next over the executive actions. And last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that he would sue the president again.
If Congress did fail to pass a funding bill in time, a DHS shutdown wouldn’t do much to thwart USCIS, the agency overseeing deportation policy and deferred action applications, since it is mostly funded through user fees. Some operations that would be affected include urban counter-terrorism programs, new border security programs, businesses that won’t be able to check the legal status of their employees, and delayed funding of the Coast Guard’s commissioned vessels.
Senate Republicans failed to invoke cloture on the spending bill on a 51–48 vote.