House Republicans showcased their demands for tighter border security, voting to eliminate the discretion that President Barack Obama wants to use to stop the deportation of young people brought to the U.S. by their undocumented parents.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the deportation provision inserted into a spending bill is at odds with American values.
“It’s wrong. It’s not who we are. And it will not become law,” he said in a press statement.
The deportation language was added to a $46.1 billion Homeland Security Department spending measure for the next fiscal year.
The measure, which would finance the hiring of an additional 1,600 Border Patrol agents and increase military air-patrol efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border, was approved on a 245-182 vote.
The vote on the deportation amendment was much closer: 224-201 vote and largely along party lines..
The amendment sponsored by Iowa Republican Representative Steve King would prohibit Obama from stopping the deportation of undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children.
King said “the president does not have the authority to waive immigration law, nor does he have the authority to create it out of thin air.”
Obama issued that order last year after he was unsuccessful in persuading Congress to pass the Dream Act, legislation that would enable undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children to achieve citizenship if they get a college degree or serve in the military.
Representative David Price, a North Carolina Democrat, called King’s amendment a “poison pill” that would “destroy bipartisan support” for the legislation.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said most Democrats would have supported the spending bill if not for King’s add-on.
The amendment would bar the use of funds to enforce directives issued by John T. Morton, the director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to prioritize enforcement of different classes of undocumented immigrants.
The debate over border security and detention of deportable undocumented immigrants was a preview of a bigger debate to come.
Next week, the Senate plans to begin consideration of a comprehensive immigration overhaul measure. It would provide an eventual path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and set milestones for improving security at the U.S. border.
The House amendment on deportation is unlikely to be adopted in the Democratically-controlled Senate, where Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois called it “mean-spirited.”
A bipartisan group of House members say they hope to unveil a competing immigration plan this month. The House Judiciary Committee also is considering individual pieces of legislation to address issues such as border security and enforcing sanctions against employers for hiring undocumented immigrants.
During the House debate, Democrats sought unsuccessfully to scale back a program that relies on local police to help enforce immigration laws.
Price, the top Democrat on Appropriation’s homeland security subcommittee, argued it was “prone to abuse” by police who use racial profiling to identify undocumented immigrants. Price also questioned the cost efficiency of the program, saying deportations cost more than $30,000 per immigrant under the program as opposed to $1,500 under a parallel effort.
Democrats tried without success to strip a provision that would require the Obama administration to maintain a minimum of 34,000 beds in immigration detention facilities.
The administration was criticized by House Republicans for releasing more than 2,200 undocumented immigrants from detention in February. Republicans charged that the administration was endangering local communities to protest the implementation of automatic spending cuts. Morton told a House committee that none of those released were dangerous criminals.
Price said that most detainees don’t pose a threat to public safety and can be more inexpensively monitored by immigration authorities if they were released from custody.
The measure would also provide an additional $6.2 billion for the disaster relief fund to supplement the $11 billion already at the disposal of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deliver assistance to areas devastated by storms such as the tornadoes that ripped through Oklahoma last month.
Including the provision raised the measure’s total price tag to $46.1 billion, or $13.7 billion less than what Congress enacted in the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
The House adopted an amendment sponsored by Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy that would prevent FEMA from spending any money to increase the premiums on subsidized flood-insurance policies by declaring more properties at high risk for flooding. In 2012 Congress mandated that FEMA start phasing out subsidies for flood-insurance. Such subsidies account for about 20 percent of the 5.5 million policies underwritten by the program.
The spending measure also would reduce funding for the Transportation Security Administration, created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to screen cargo and passengers at airports and seaports, by $175 million from the 2013 spending level. The total includes $3.8 billion for screening and $1 billion to support aviation security.
Lawmakers adopted an amendment by Florida Republican Representative John Mica that would transfer an additional $32 million to a program to promote privatized airport screening of passengers at 12 local airports, including San Francisco and Kansas City, where private contractors operate the security checkpoints. That’s in addition to $163 million the legislation would provide for hiring private contractors to replace TSA screeners at local airports.
The $10.6 billion for the Customs and Border Protection agency is $35 million more than President Barack Obama requested in his fiscal 2014 budget plan and would finance a total of 21,730 Border Patrol agents and more than 22,800 Customs officers.
“We can’t let our front-line security lapse,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Representative Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, said in the floor debate. “The terrible attack at the Boston Marathon underscored the need to support key readiness programs, provide heroic first responders with the funding and equipment they deserve, and improve intelligence and threat-targeting so we can help avoid terrible attacks like Boston in the future.”