The Republican dominated House opened the year with votes to fund the Department of Homeland Security and attack President Obama’s executive action granting legal status to “dreamers,” and an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants.
The House voted 236-191,on January 14 in favor of funding the Department of Homeland Security with a budget of $39.7 billion, but added amendments which would overturn President Obama’s latest executive order to grant an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants lawful permanent residency in the United States. Also, it aims to strike down Obama’s 2012 policy that granted work and lawful residency in the U.S. to another 600,000 persons.
Cecilia Muñoz, the White House Domestic Policy Director, speaking in an on-the-record press call January 14 with R. Gil Kerlikowske, Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said that among the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., those that were brought as children to the United States and who do not know any other country are equally subject to deportation as those who have been convicted of serious crimes under this bill.
The bill, according to Democratic leadership and a few conservatives, may not pass through the Senate, which may jeopardize DHS’s chance of receiving funding before the Feb. 27 deadline. The bill will need 60 votes to pass through the Senate, which means the 54 seats held by the GOP may come up short.
Munoz said the GOP’s actions on Wednesday showed that the party’s interest in debating immigration is only to undo the most significant and constructive actions that have been taken in the last several years. She said that the administration will continue encouraging the congress to fund DHS.
“The most important leverage is that the right thing to do is fund the agency so they can do their job,” she said.
Kerlikowske said that he would like to see the agency fully funded so that technology can be maintained and long-term development issues could be sought out.
“We have a huge amount of technology and technology needs to be repaired,” he said. “It needs maintenance. We also need to examine through contracts and research and development contracts, which are all longer term funding issues.”
He said that the Secretary Jeh Johnson’s memorandums and the actions taken by the president give DHS, its 60,000 employees and the American people clarity and a level of understanding that makes sense.
“The prioritization is critical to any law enforcement agency,” he said. “And, it’s critical to us.”
Munoz said that undocumented immigrants who are eligible to obtain Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status and are worried about risking deportation should look to the 600,000 who are already registered. She said that the president knew when he made his executive order’s announcement to provide legal status for undocumented immigrants that this debate would come forward.
“We have strong examples to point to and we are going to continue to point to those examples,” she said. “And, I know the leaders in the affected communities are going to do the same and hopefully that example will be stronger than the political theater.”
Melissa Lopez an immigration lawyer and advocate in El Paso, TX said that the president’s threat to veto the House bill if it were to move through the Senate was a stronger statement than pointing to positive examples. She said that immigration advocates need to continue to encourage those who they assist so they may speak out about the positive changes they experience and the impact they have on communities.
“It’s tough sometimes because people get nervous speaking to the media,” she said. “It’s important for people to put a face to a DACA case to be able to know what DACA looks like in a human being as compared to rhetoric (others) here from the media.”
She said that for undocumented immigrants who have not applied, but qualify may have the fear that being on a government list might come back to affect them, but hopes that the debates do not dissuade them from applying.
“The best we can do is get out there and educate people as much as we can and hope they have enough information that they can make the best decision for themselves.”
Lopez said that she is not surprised that the GOP voted the way they did and that it is no different than the way they’ve legislated.
“They don’t see this as a people issue,” she said. “They need to see it as a people issue because that’s who’s involved.”