House Republicans may not be moving the immigration measures the president wants, but they are backing those pushed by polarizing Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King.
On Thursday, one day after Latino groups gave several GOP House members failing grades on immigration, the House voted 218-193 to pay for the Department of Justice to investigate the release of immigrants, some with criminal charges or convictions by the Department of Homeland Security.
The amendment was sponsored by King of Iowa whose comparisons to immigrants as drug mules and other comments have angered some Latinos.
“It is defacto amnesty that is going on at the Department of Homeland Security,” King said Wednesday night on the House floor. “Let’s protect the American people from criminals being poured loose on the street by the tens of thousands.”
The amendment, attached to a bill funding Commerce, Justice and State departments, would provide $5 million for the investigation. The House was voting on the larger spending bill Thursday afternoon.
It’s the second amendment sponsored by King that the House has approved. The previous, also approved on a largely partisan vote, effectively would end the deportation deferrals the Obama administration granted young immigrants here illegally.
The vote on King's first amendment was used by Latino groups to develop scorecards for members of Congress. The groups said they would use the scorecards to inform Latino voters of members’ records on immigration for the coming midterms and in the 2016 presidential races.
Thursday's vote on the King amendment also follows the failure of Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Mike Coffman, R-Colo., to get votes on their amendments allowing young immigrants here illegally to serve i in the military, making them eligible for legal status. The amendment was blocked from reaching a floor vote by their fellow Republicans.
Democrats quickly seized on the approval of King's amendment, blasting the GOP as taking its cues from King in a statement from the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, C-Calif.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus also denounced the vote saying King and House Republicans “are one and the same.”
“Today’s amendment is a waste of taxpayer money and another attack on young DREAMers and the immigrant community,” said caucus Chairman Rubén Hinojosa.
For Republicans facing tough primary elections, the vote helps demonstrate their toughness immigration enforcement, although it could make courting the Latino vote more difficult in coming years. The complex political situation some GOP officials face was seen Thursday as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who has a tea party primary opponent, was criticized by conservatives as a cheerleader for "amnesty" and by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., as a barrier to an immigration reform vote.
Advocates for young immigrants, or DREAMers, also denounced the vote, but turned their anger on Obama for waiting on the House GOP to take action on immigration reform and not using his presidential powers to curb deportations immediately. On Tuesday, Obama asked Johnson to wait until after this summer to release results from his review of immigration enforcement policies and whether they are being applied humanely.
Lorela Praeli, United We Dream director of policy and advocacy, said the King amendment vote was another reminder that the president’s delay on the deportation review was “foolhardy” and “immoral.
Virginia Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, convened a hearing Thursday that focused on release of immigrants convicted or charged with crimes.
He accused the Obama administration of taking “unprecedented” and “likely unconstitutional” steps on immigration enforcement by releasing or not pursuing immigrants who could be deported. He said this has been done under the “guise of prosecutorial discretion.”
Johnson had said before the hearing he would examine the releases of immigrants with criminal convictions, some which were ordered by courts or required by law.
Separately Thursday, a group of Catholic bishops who had held a Mass for immigrants on the U.S.-Mexico border, held another Mass at St. Peter's Catholic Church on Capitol Hill to pray for immigrants and met with House leaders to urge they move on immigration reform.