Immigration debate upended by Paris attacks as national security takes center stage

Immigration debates and policies-under-construction often have been upended by unforeseen influxes, such as this year’s surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America, and tragedies caused by terrorists.

This week, the House is expected to take up how to deal with President Barack Obama’s controversial executive order on immigration, which would give some 5 million undocumented immigrants a three-year reprieve from deportation, work permits and some federal benefits.

Under consideration is a roughly $40 million funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security that also calls for stripping funding that would go toward the president’s executive actions.

Now, on the heels of the terrorist attacks in Paris that left killed 17 people and three gunmen over three days of attacks on a satirical newspaper, a kosher supermarket and on police, many Republicans – who now control both chambers of Congress – are saying that Homeland Security programs can’t be compromised in funding moves this week.

“Defunding that part of the bill that deals with enforcing the executive order makes sense but we can’t go too far here because look what happened in Paris,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, according to The Hill. “The Department of Homeland Security needs to be up and running.”

And Peter King, the New York Republican who was chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said funding counterterrorism programs and other work is “absolutely essential.”

Last year, they voted to fund the Department of Homeland Security only through the end of February so that they could take up the subject of funding and Obama’s executive order this year, when Republicans have control of both the House and Senate. Last year, Democrats controlled the Senate.

Congress must pass a new spending bill for Homeland Security to avoid the agency shutting down on Feb. 27. Any bill passed by the House must also get Senate approval.

On Friday, House Republicans discussed blocking the president’s executive order through surgical moves in the funding package that would not affect border security or efforts to fight terrorism.

House Republicans also discussed putting a stop to a 2012 initiative by Obama to spare undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation.

The executive order that Obama announced last year broadened the initiative, extending many of the same forms of relief to undocumented immigrants who have U.S.-born children or children who are legal permanent residents.

The DHS bill under discussion would fund the agency through the end of this fiscal year.

Obama has threatened to veto any bill that undermines his executive action.

The Hill said: “A Senate GOP aide warned that Democrats would pounce on a departmental shutdown to accuse Republicans of prioritizing the desires of their conservative base over national security.”

But conservatives believe that it will be more detrimental for the GOP not to carry through with promises to stop Obama’s unilateral moves on immigration.

“The [2013] government shutdown ultimately didn’t matter,” a conservative GOP aide was quoted as saying in The Hill. “It hurt Republicans in the short term but didn’t hurt them in the [midterm] election.”

The aide said that even if Congress does not pass a funding bill by Feb. 27, many parts of the Homeland Security Department’s essential operations for national security will remain functioning.

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