Published December 24, 2016
The Obama administration has deported more than 1.9 million immigrants, aggressive enforcement of current law that fails to sway several House Republicans who blame distrust of President Barack Obama for GOP reluctance on immigration legislation.
Republicans who emerged from their weekly caucus meeting on Tuesday offered competing views on the prospects for immigration this election year just days after GOP leaders unveiled principles that call for legalization but not a special path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living here illegally, increased border and interior security and an employment verification system.
"Clearly the draft principles we outlined, members seem to be rather supportive of them," Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters. "There was a lot of discussion about whether we should proceed, if we proceed and how we would proceed. It's also clear from our members that we believe that securing our borders has to be the first step in this process."
But he added that conversations are continuing and "no decision's been made."
Further tamping down any optimism for legislation this year was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who told reporters that differences between the Senate's comprehensive approach and the House's piecemeal strategy were an "irresolvable conflict."
"I don't see how you get to an outcome this year with the two bodies in such a different place," McConnell told reporters.
The release of the House Republican principles gave hope to advocates pushing for the first overhaul of the nation's immigration laws in three decades that long-stalled legislation could be completed this year despite the political headwinds of the midterm elections. But House Republican members remain divided, casting doubt on any action this year even on a bill-by-bill approach favored by House leaders.
"The big split is on the amnesty question and giving legal status to those here illegally," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla. "It divides the conference right down the middle. It depends on where they're from, what they're situation is," a reference to lawmakers' home districts.
With specific bills still under discussion, Mica added that as the November election draws closer, "the less inclined people are to have anything controversial brought up."
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., a strong proponent of legislation, was more optimistic that legislation would be done this year.
"The fact that we have the principles out, that there are a number of members that are co-authoring bills and that it's part of our conference agenda. I would say very likely," Denham told reporters.
Since Obama took office in January 2009, his Homeland Security Department has deported more than 1.9 million people, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement data. The overall number includes 409,000 in 2012 and 368,644 in 2013.
Immigration groups have demanded that Obama use his powers as the nation's chief executive to stop some deportations beyond his action in 2012 to halt deportations for some young immigrants living in the country illegally who arrived as children. The groups argue for the parents of children brought into the country without legal permission, workers who have helped in the prosecution of employers who have broken the law or immigrants who don't represent a threat to national security.
United We Dream, the immigrant youth-led network, held a rally on Capitol Hill on Monday in which participants were critical of House Republicans and the president, referring to Obama as the "deporter-in-chief."
Yet, several Republicans said they don't trust Obama to enforce any immigration law they pass.
"The lawlessness of the White House makes us lose confidence that the president will enforce the laws," Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters.
Although the administration has deported millions, Ryan cited the unilateral changes Obama has made in enforcing the four-year-old health care law and the president's pronouncement in his State of the Union address that he would bypass Congress.
"It's the track record and his disposition which says that he's more interested in going it alone than following the Constitution and going through Congress that leaves us concerned about these things," Ryan said.
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., an opponent of what he called the "House leadership's amnesty proposal," said flatly, "We have a lawless president."
Brooks said Obama's record in enforcing immigration laws should be measured by the number of deportations plus the cases in which border agents catch and return individuals without a deportation hearing.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said he could see House passage of some immigration legislation either this year or next year.
"It's not clear sailing, but the 'heck no' caucus is quiet, smaller then it was perceived to be," Norquist said in an interview at the launch of a $25 million scholarship fund for students who came to the United States illegally with their parents.