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GOP Floats Limiting Funding For DHS, Largest Agency Employing Latinos

A maintenance worker prepares a U.S. Office of Air and Marine (OAM) helicopter for takeoff to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border on October 1, 2013 in San Diego, California. OAM helicopters support the U.S. Border Patrol as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), personnel protecting border areas. While much of the Federal Government has closed down, personnel considered essential, such as border agents, remain working. John Moore / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON, DC -- Should Republicans limit funding for the Department of Homeland Security over immigration to three months, they could open a new issue with Hispanics.

DHS employs the largest percentage of Hispanics of any government agency, with 21 percent of its workforce identified as Hispanic, according to the Office of Personnel Management. DHS said in its fiscal year 2015 budget request that the department has 240,000 employees, which meaning about 50,400 are Hispanic.

With Congress back from its Thanksgiving recess, the executive action on immigration that President Barack Obama announced and how the GOP planned to respond were topics getting top priority on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

Some in the GOP want to keep President Barack Obama’s executive action from going into effect through funding bills.

One idea is to provide money for the rest of the government through the end of September 2015, but only fund DHS through March. That would allow Republicans to take up immigration next year when they take control of the Senate. They also could take up the DHS funding bill.

At a hearing Tuesday morning, DHS Secretary Johnson said that was “a very bad idea.”

The funding bill would be what is known as a continuing resolution or CR, which keeps operations going at current spending levels. Johnson said a CR would hold up hiring for Secret Service agents and hamper plans to build a detention center in Texas for families to avoid the situation that happened over the summer when tens of thousands of Central American families arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border, crowding U.S. Border Patrol facilities and stretching resources.

“I need the help of Congress to support and build upon border security, which I believe all of you support,” Johnson said. “I’m urging that we act upon our current appropriations request now for the purpose and for the sake of border security and homeland security.”

Current funding for all of government ends Dec. 11.

The Border Patrol has been one place where many Hispanics have been employed. In its 2015 budget request, the administration estimated a budget of about $61 billion for DHS, including fees. Congress would provide $38.2 billion of that for the 2015 fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

David Aguilar, who was Border Patrol chief under the Bush administration and Border Patrol commissioner for Obama, had to oversee his division's funding through several continuing resolutions. He said short term funding immediately "takes away the ability of leadership of an agency to plan for the long-term, because of the uncertainty."

Aguilar, cofounder and partner of Global Security and Intelligence Strategies, a consulting firm, said "it makes it very tough for the leadership to keep the wheels of Homeland Security moving towards the long term vision. It has a tendency of stagnating the agency."

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said he was uncertain how hard a short-term funding bill would hit DHS, but he raised concerns about effects on the morale of the agency, which he said is already stressed.

“We have to keep in mind that we’ve got to keep the emphasis on the border. We’ve got to fund them. .. If you don’t fund them or give them pay raises, it’s going to send the wrong message to those good men and women that do a good job,” Cuellar said. He said Democrats will oppose partial funding.

In its 2015 budget request, one of the priority requests under the “Securing and Managing Our Borders” are salaries and operating costs for 21,370 Border Patrol agents and 25,775 CBP officers.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said if Congress provides funding for the long term “what you are doing is giving the president absolute, 100 percent authority to do what the president wants to do, which I think is a great mistake.”

Diaz-Balart emphasized he supports what is in the executive order, but doesn’t think an executive order is the way to deal with immigration.

“The president has said himself when he did this that this doesn’t solve the issue. He’s right,” Diaz-Balart said. “So does this make it more likely or less likely that a real permanent solution, which has begun through Congress, can be done? I think it makes it more difficult," said Diaz-Balart, one of the House Republicans who has been pushing for a bipartisan immigration bill for several years.

The House could vote on what is considered a symbolic proposal to block Obama’s executive action, but the bill would be unlikely to get Senate approval.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said Obama’s executive action is a “wrong move” and she wants a legislative fix. “Mario Diaz-Balart has been working on it a long time and I’m with him,” she said.

The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill in the summer of 2013, but the House refused to act on it amid opposition from party conservatives. Although the House drafted a few bills on separate immigration issues and Diaz-Balart and others worked on a Republican immigration bill, the GOP leadership refused to take issue to a vote this year.

Facing pressure from immigrants groups on deportations and seeing no legislative advancement in Congress, Obama used his executive powers to shield millions from deportation.