Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who is in line to be the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is working on a border security bill and will aim to move it once the new Republican-controlled Congress convenes in January.
Johnson said his legislation would include a guest-worker program to reduce the incentive for illegal immigration. It would build on work already done by Congress, including a House bill aimed at ensuring that 90 percent of would-be border-crossers are stopped.
The senator made the announcement as President Barack Obama prepares to take executive action on immigration, saying that Congress has forced him to because of its inaction on the matter.
Johnson outlined his plans in an interview with the Associated Press amid growing GOP complaints over Obama's planned action by year's end to address the faulty immigration system.
The president's executive action plan, which could remove the threat of deportation for millions, is emerging as a major point of conflict with congressional Republicans who made big gains in last week's midterm elections.
"Regardless of what President Obama does, I'm going to move forward with a very strong border security bill," Johnson said. "I hope President Obama doesn't take that executive action because I think for many people that will poison the well and certainly make it more difficult to solve the immigration problem."
Johnson said he would move his border bill "as quickly as we can" once the new Congress convenes. He said he supports solving the immigration system one issue at a time — the stated position of most Republicans.
Advocates expect the president to expand a 2-year-old program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that temporarily halted deportations and granted work permits to more than 500,000 immigrants brought here illegally as kids.
"I prefer and still prefer to see it done through Congress, but every day that I wait we're misallocating resources," Obama said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Johnson said DACA is responsible for increasing illegal immigration, including the recent crisis of unaccompanied minors from Central America — something administration officials dispute. He said it should be overturned, though he stopped short of pledging to attempt to do that legislatively.
"Is that going to pass? Probably not," Johnson said of any attempt to undo DACA. "I don't think President Obama is going to sign that into law. I'm not sure we'd get Democrats to vote for it. We can talk about it, and we should talk about it."
Immigration advocates are pessimistic that the incoming GOP-controlled Congress could pass immigration legislation that would be acceptable to the Latino community or that Obama would sign. But Johnson said he's committed to trying. His plans for a border bill are unusual in that it would include a guest-worker provision – something that many businesses that rely on migrant workers support, but some conservatives say hurts American workers.
"The No. 1 incentive is people coming into this country seeking opportunity and seeking work," Johnson said. "We need a functioning guest-worker program."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.