WASHINGTON (AP) – House Republicans announced plans Friday to take broad aim at President Barack Obama's immigration policies and eliminate protections for immigrants brought illegally to this country as kids.
The legislation to be voted on next week satisfies demands from the most conservative lawmakers and goes further than the approach initially discussed by some House Republicans. That approach would have targeted only the executive actions Obama announced in November that provided deportation protections for millions of immigrants in the country illegally.
Conservatives in the GOP caucus pressed leadership to go further and also shut down a 2012 program that has granted work permits to more than 600,000 immigrants brought here illegally as kids. Ending the program would eventually expose those young people to deportation. Other changes would undo Obama directives to immigration agents aimed at limiting deportations of people with no significant criminal record.
"The American people were expecting the leadership to step up to the plate and not just make some symbolic gesture in trying to address what the president did back in November, but try to go a step further," said Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala. "That's what our language does and that's what at the end of the day I think will garner a lot of support among our colleagues."
But the outcome won't have the support of a handful of moderates in the caucus, including lawmakers representing heavily Latino districts.
"We've got to deal with immigration, immigration as a whole. Reforming our system across the nation," said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif. "Just picking on the children that came here through no fault of the own I think is the wrong way to start."
The vote will come on a $39.7 billion spending bill to keep the Homeland Security Department running past February. Lawmakers said the goal is to keep the agency running on full funding — an especially critical goal in the wake of the Paris terror attacks — while at the same time blocking Obama's administrative moves on immigration.
Obama's directives in November gave temporary relief from deportation to about 4 million immigrants in the country illegally, mostly those who'd been in the country at least five years and have kids who are citizens or legal permanent residents.
The earlier program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, applied to certain immigrants brought here illegally as kids, known as "Dreamers" by their supporters.
The immigration fight is coming to a head as Congress wraps up its first week of work for the year after convening under full Republican control. Republicans deliberately kept the Homeland Security Department on a short leash when they passed a full-year spending bill for all other government agencies late last year, so that they could deal with Obama's immigration moves with more Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Yet the dynamic does not appear to have shifted much.
Even though Republicans now command a larger House majority, the biggest in decades, giving Speaker John Boehner more room to maneuver, leadership still catered to the most conservative lawmakers in crafting the immigration bill, as happened several times in the last Congress. Indeed, some of the same conservatives who voted against Boehner for speaker in a failed overthrow attempt this week were cheering loudest Friday at the shape the legislation was taking.
"I liked what I heard," said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, after a closed-door meeting to discuss the legislation.
"I really appreciate the process of allowing all of us to have some input," said Gohmert, a frequent critic of House Republican leaders. "One of the things that has really been lacking for the last eight years is having more input like we've finally gotten in this bill, so this is a good thing."
And even with the Senate under GOP control, minority Democrats still exercise considerable sway, and there's no guarantee senators will agree to the House legislation. Even if they did, Obama could very well threaten to veto it. That leaves the ultimate outcome of the legislative dispute unclear.
At the same time, Democrats say Republicans are courting electoral disaster in the 2016 presidential election by passing legislation that could alienate many Latino voters.
"It's nothing short of breathtaking that their first move coming out of the gate in 2015 is to attack immigrants and their families," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a pro-immigrant advocacy group.