Republicans Fill A Homeland Security Bill With Anti-Immigrant Proposals

An adult chaperon comforts two children who broke down crying after recounting their parents’ deportation. CREDIT: ESTHER Y. LEE
An adult chaperon comforts two children who broke down crying after recounting their parents’ deportation. CREDIT: ESTHER Y. LEE

House Republicans voted through a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations funding bill Wednesday with several anti-immigrant proposals tacked onto it. While the bill itself will ensure that the agency remains funded through September 2015 (the end of the fiscal year), the attached anti-immigration amendments would upend both the President’s most recent executive action as well as his measure from 2012, a move that could prevent immigration officials from going after criminal immigrants. The measure passed in a 236–191 vote, with ten Republicans opposing it and two Democrats voting in support.

Even before Obama announced in November 2014 that he would shield upwards of five million undocumented immigrants from deportation and grant them work authorization, Republicans balked at any executive-level immigration decision. They berated the president for an action that they determined would “poison the well” and challenge the Constitution.

As a result, House Republicans are pushing for five amendments that would move backwards on the president’s executive action and prevent immigration officials from setting enforcement priorities. The amendments would subject all undocumented immigrants to further enforcement scrutiny, potentially causing them to live in fear of deportation.

While members of Congress are voting on the amendments separately, the vote puts the entire bill at risk. Politico reports that conservatives who back the amendments are threatening not to vote for the funding measure if their provisions don’t pass.


President Obama said Monday that he would veto the funding bill if the amendments pass. But even before the bill gets to his desk, Senate Republicans would likely run into trouble securing a 60-vote majority in that chamber. And even hours before the vote on Wednesday morning, at least a dozen moderate House Republicans expressed hesitation over the amendment that rolls back Obama’s executive action.

Hashing out anti-immigrant legislation in the Homeland Security spending bill could also slow down efforts to combat counterterrorism. After the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last week, Rep. Peter King, (R-NY) chair of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, expressed last week, “Whatever we do on that, as far as immigration, cannot in any way be allowed to interfere with our counterterrorism methods.”

Two of the attached amendments are particularly troubling for all undocumented immigrants and set the tone for the kind of immigration legislation that will likely continue to come out of the Republican-controlled House. Endorsed by the immigration-restrictionist organization Center for Immigration Studies, the DeSantis Amendment, introduced by Reps. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Martha Roby (R-AL), would prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from prioritizing the deportation of criminals over that of undocumented immigrants who have not committed serious crimes. Similarly, Reps. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), and Lou Barletta (R-PA)’s amendment challenges the constitutionality of Obama’s executive action. DeSantis’ amendment also allows immigration agents to pursue deportations regardless of priority and without consideration of an individual’s ties to the United States.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s amendment seeks to eliminate the president’s 2012 executive action called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, by prohibiting adjudication of renewals, new applicants, and cases that have been denied.

Two other amendments issue stern warnings to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), accusing the agency of prioritizing undocumented immigrants over citizens, but fall short of mandates. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL)’s amendment urges the agency to process applications of legal immigrants over “unlawfully present aliens,” like recipients of the President’s 2012 executive action and future recipients. Reps. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) and Glenn Thompson (R-PA)’s amendment states that DHS should not grant deferred action or work permits to undocumented immigrants because their exclusion from the Affordable Care Act could encourage employers to hire undocumented immigrants rather than Americans or others who are entitled to health insurance.


The House adopted all five amendments, but the Blackburn amendment that would defund the DACA program narrowly passed, with 26 Republicans siding with Democrats.