White House Press Secretary Jay Carney assailed a House amendment that would resume the deportation of thousands of immigrants brought to the United States illegally as minors.
The party-line vote of 224-201 on Thursday was aimed at blocking implementation of President Barack Obama's 2012 election-year order to stop deportations of many so-called DREAM Act individuals.
Carney said in a statement that has appeared in published reports that the amendment was “extreme.”
“This amendment, sponsored by Representative Steve King, runs contrary to our most deeply-held values as Americans,” Carney said. “It asks law enforcement to treat these DREAMers the same way as they would violent criminals. It’s wrong. It’s not who we are. And it will not become law.”
The Republican-controlled House vote was a largely symbolic move in the first immigration-related vote in either chamber of Congress this year and a measure of the daunting challenge facing supporters of a sweeping overhaul of existing law on the subject.
Democrats on the House floor reacted with boos when the provision was added to a routine spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security.
The administration has threatened to veto the overall legislation on budgetary grounds. It nevertheless stood as a stark warning from conservatives who dominate the ranks of the Republican House majority about attempts in the Senate to grant a chance at citizenship to an estimated 11 million immigrants residing in the country illegally.
The White House said the House-passed measure would affect "Dreamers" who are "productive members of society who were brought here as young children, grew up in our communities, and became American in every way but on paper."
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said in a statement that the vote prohibits the administration "from implementing executive amnesty" without congressional action.
"Bipartisan support for my amendment is the first test of the 113th Congress in the House of Representatives on immigration. My amendment blocks many of the provisions that are mirrored in the Senate's 'Gang of Eight' bill. If this position holds, no amnesty will reach the President's desk," he said.
Those who support the DREAM Act argue that many undocumented children consider the United States home, speak English as their primary language, identify as American, and that they should not be punished for the decisions of their parents to live here illegally.
But in an interview with Fox News Latino in 2011, King said he was unfazed by appeals calling for Americans to have mercy on undocumented youth.
He said he doesn’t buy that undocumented youth all are innocent bystanders. He said there are kids who come into the country illegally and unaccompanied, so he did not see them as forced to come here by adults. King said he sees the DREAM Act as another “amnesty,” another way to reward law-breakers.
“We’ll undermine the rule of law,” he said in the interview. “Then you get more law breakers and the succeeding generations will teach their child that amnesty was good and that you can break the law and get rewarded for it. It undermines American civilization.”
Democrats said that King and the House lawmakers who supported his amendment had stooped low.
"I can't believe they just did that," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a leading supporter of the DREAM Act.
Ana Avendano of the AFL-CIO said in a statement that King and his allies are playing to "a dwindling base of anti-immigrant Republican primary voters. We hope and expect that the leadership of the Republican party will understand that this is not only abhorrent policy but suicidal politics."
Speaking to a group of reporters, a White House official, Cecilia Munoz, said if Republicans were trying to attract Latino attention they were going about it all wrong.
"If part of what is driving this debate is a recognition, particularly on the Republican side, that they need to do better with the Latino community, this is really not the right way," she said.
Obama announced a new policy in June 2012 that puts off deportation for two years for many of those brought to the United States as children, specifically if they were under 16 at the time and are no older than 31 now. They also must be in school, graduated from high school or have served in the military and have no criminal record.
The order offers relief from deportation from many young immigrants who would be covered by the so-called DREAM Act, which has repeatedly failed in Congress.
Democrats argued vociferously against King's proposal when it was debated Wednesday evening.
"We should not hold children responsible for the actions of adults and their parents. We should give them an opportunity," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who has been involved in a sputtering attempt to produce a compromise immigration bill in the House.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.