January 15, 2015
Arizona Republic
Rebekah L. Sanders and Daniel Gonzalez

The Republican-controlled House voted Wednesday to block funding for President Barack Obama's efforts to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation, signaling that the GOP doesn't plan to soften its stance on immigration.

Critics said Wednesday's legislation, which faces long odds in the Senate, would sow fear among undocumented immigrants and complicate any hope for comprehensive reform before the 2016 presidential election.

"This is clearly a political temper tantrum being thrown by the 'tea party' side of the Republican caucus,"freshman U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., told The Arizona Republic shortly after voting against the bill. "Some of these amendments are just heartless. ... It makes it more difficult for us to build consensus among some of the more moderate elements of both parties."

But Republicans said this week's fight was necessary to combat executive overreach by the president.

"This rogue president needs to be reined in and held accountable for his violations of the rule of law," Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., said in a written statement.

The Arizona delegation divided along party lines on the legislation, which is built on a strategy Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., championed even before Obama announced in November that he would expand a program to temporarily shield an additional 4 million immigrants from deportation. Salmon had urged colleagues to withhold funding for the Department of Homeland Security that would carry out Obama's plans.

Portions of the bill exposed rifts in both parties, as a small number of centrist members switched sides on some amendments, including Arizona's freshman Republican Rep. Martha McSally and Democratic Reps. Kyrsten Sinema and Ann Kirkpatrick.

The bill stands little chance of passing the Senate, let alone gaining enough support to override an Obama veto, leaving open the possibility of a government shutdown next month when Homeland Security funding is projected to run out.

The tough House Republican stance on immigration so early in the legislative session sets the stage for further confrontation as the debate continues over reform.

"If the president thumbs his nose at the people's House ... he does so at his own peril," Salmon said. "Look at what happened to him in November (during the election): He got trounced because of his cavalier, 'I don't care what anybody says' attitude."

Gallego said if Republicans were serious about reform, they would bring the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate in 2013 to the floor.

The 236-191 House vote Wednesday keeps Homeland Security funded through the end of the budget year with $40 billion. In last year's budget deal, Congress left Homeland Security as the only department not fully funded, to set up a fight with the Obama administration in the new year under Republican control.

Five amendments also passed that would roll back key administration priorities.

The most controversial would block Homeland Security from spending money to approve new applications and renewals under the president's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The 2012 program shielded "dreamers," or young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, from deportation and provided them with work permits. Obama's recent expansion affects family members of deferred-action recipients as well as other classes of immigrants.

One Republican amendment would tighten the criteria for deporting criminals. Other amendments criticized Obama's actions as illegal and a hindrance to the legal immigration process.

Salmon's amendment was a kind of Holy Grail for conservatives: targeting both undocumented immigrants and the Obama-backed Affordable Care Act. It said the president's actions are unfair for American workers. Businesses that hire U.S. citizens must pay for health insurance or face a fine under the Affordable Care Act but not if they hire dreamers.

"The amendment basically stands up for the downtrodden American worker that has been bearing the brunt of all of the economic travails that this country's been through," Salmon told The Republic after the vote. "I struggle to think of anyone who is against protecting the American worker or in support of illegal immigrants."

Republican political consultant Barrett Marson said the conservative East Valley voters represented by Salmon are bound to applaud his move.

"Matt Salmon is proving to be a legislative genius by marrying two red-meat, long-running conservative issues together," Marson said. "It's a great idea to show the shortcomings of each of them: the president's executive order (on immigration) and Obamacare."

However, a small breakaway group of lawmakers, including three Arizonans representing centrist districts, voted against their parties.

Though Sinema opposed the final bill as a "dangerous and irresponsible game," the Phoenix Democrat voted for three Republican amendments, including Salmon's.

"Kyrsten is an independent thinker who votes for ideas, not party," her spokeswoman Michelle Davidson said in an e-mail. "If an idea is reasonable she will support it."

Kirkpatrick, a Flagstaff Democrat in a district populated by Republicans, also opposed the final bill but supported an amendment setting tighter restrictions on criminals because they target "the right people."

McSally, a supporter of the final bill, bucked the Republican Party on an amendment to deny dreamers legal status. The Tucson lawmaker, who took office days ago after winning a nail-biter of a race, struck an empathetic tone that could earn her a primary challenger.

"It is neither practical nor fair to deport young migrants who freely came forward, giving information such as fingerprints and home addresses to our government, under the auspices that they would be given deferred status," McSally said in a statement to The Republic. "Those who came here through no fault of their own, have passed background checks, earned high school degrees, and are pursuing the American dream should not be punished for the president's irresponsible action."

Some immigrant advocates believe the House's actions are primarily a Republican-led attempt to confuse undocumented immigrants who qualify for protection from deportation under Obama's programs.

Although the measures appear unlikely to become law, some undocumented immigrants may now wrongly believe Obama's programs have been killed, said Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona, an advocacy group.

Others may be discouraged from applying when the programs take effect later this year out of fear that the information provided to the government could be used later to deport them if Republicans win the White House in 2016 in addition to the House and the Senate, she said.

"That is their political tactic to put fear in the community, and we've got to stop it," Falcon said.

Some Democrats stoked the fear, warning that supporters of the bill had voted "to deport dreamers." The legislation does not explicitly call for federal officials to go after deferred-action recipients, though it does pave the way for their protections from deportation to be revoked.

Falcon said hundreds of undocumented immigrants who might qualify for Obama's immigration action have already attended public-information sessions held around the Valley since December by her group and others. The sessions are intended to inform people about Obama's program so they can be ready to apply when they take effect.

In February, the government will begin accepting applications for the expanded version of the deferred-action program. Among the changes, immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children will be able to apply for deportation deferments and work permits that last three years instead of two. The new program also removes the current age limit to apply for deferred action.

In May, undocumented parents with children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents will be able to begin applying for three-year deportation deferments and work permits under a separate new program known as Deferred Action for Parent Accountability.

Falcon said Obama's programs will stimulate the economy.

Some anti-immigration groups, such as NumbersUSA, applauded the measures passed by the House.

"These amendments are the essential first step to Congress reclaiming its constitutional authority over immigration and to ensuring that the next new U.S. jobs go to American workers and legal immigrants already here," said Roy Beck, president of the group, which advocates for reducing legal and illegal immigration.

However, some Republicans are nervous the House GOP's hard line on immigration could backfire. Party leaders recommended a different approach following Obama's 2012 re-election to reach the growing Hispanic voting bloc.

"(W)e must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform," the authors of a postmortem report wrote in 2013. "If we do not, our party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only."

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