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Latino Dem: GOP Immigration Vote Not Symbolic; ‘It’s Personal’

Image: U.S. Senator Ted Cruz speaks to the press about the need "To Defund the President's Executive, Unconstitutional Amnesty" on Capitol Hill in Washington

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks to the press about the need "To Defund the President's Executive, Unconstitutional Amnesty" on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 3, 2014. King, Bachmann and Cruz say that President Obama has violated the U.S. Constitution by moving to shield some 4.7 million undocumented residents from deportation. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS SOCIETY IMMIGRATION) YURI GRIPAS / Reuters

Republican legislation denouncing President Barack Obama's executive action was drawing reaction throughout the day as it was debated on the House floor and was approved 219-197.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., has been called largely symbolic because it's not likely to advance in the Senate. The White House issued a veto threat on the bill Thursday.

Young DREAMers Hope for Comprehensive Immigration Legislation 0:57

But Rep. Xavier Becerra, the highest ranking Hispanic Democrat in the House, said the bill is no longer "symbolic, this is real ... for me as a son of immigrants, this is not symbolic. It's personal."

"The actions of Congress are not games, when someone proposes a law that tries to hurt a large group of people, a community, it's dangerous," Becerra of California said before the vote.

The bill drew no votes from Republicans with heavily Hispanic districts, among them Florida GOP Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, who issued a joint statement saying "the only legal and permanent solution" is congressional legislation. GOP Reps. Raul Labrador of Idaho and Steve King of Iowa were among three who did not vote.

Yoho's bill states that the executive action is unconstitutional.

House Speaker John Boehner said in his news conference that the House was making clear it rejects Obama's "unilateral actions." He said the Senate should take up the bill and pass it. Failing to do so by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would be "an act of monumental arrogance," he said.

"The president thumbed his nose at the American people with his actions on immigration," Boehner said.

Lorella Praeli, director for advocacy and policy for United We Dream, a young immigrants group, said Republicans would not punish President Barack Obama with their bill.

"It punishes our families ... Do you want to deport Dreamers? Do you want to deport parents? Do you want to deport my mother ... Every single one of them (Republicans) can’t answer that question. Every single one of them has dodged our question beacause they know there will be a political price to pay," Praeli said.

She called the executive action Obama took a "victory" and said "to anyone who dares to vote against us today, we are ready and we are coming ... We are not afraid to defend our victory."

Clarissa Martínez-de Castro, a National Council of La Raza vice president, referred to the bill as a stunt. "This is not a fight between Republicans and the president," she said. "They will be picking a fight with the millions of Americans who will finally find relief."

Obama's executive action makes it possible for about 4 million people, many of them parents of U.S. citizen and legal resident children, to be eligible to apply for temporary protection from deportation for three years. The action also makes some changes to immigration enforcement and provides some measures for high-skilled workers.

Becerra and the others spoke at a news conference that included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md. It comes as a Washington Post report revealed the White House and Democrats are building a rapid response team to strike at Republicans' messaging and actions on immigration.

The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of 39 organizations, urged every House member in a letter to vote against the bill, saying it would cause irreparable and disproportionate harm to Latino families, who are the primary recipients of deferred action, which Obama's executive action grants.

The bill is part of a two-part response by Republicans to the president's action. Although some conservative lawmakers want another budget battle over the issue, as they did with Obamacare, many want to avoid such a publicly unpopular move. What is being considered is a plan to fund all of government through the end of next September, except the Department of Homeland Security, which would only be funded through March.