Updated 11:51 p.m. | House Republicans voted to prohibit President Barack Obama from granting what they consider to be an unconstitutional amnesty to illegal immigrants Friday.
The bill would effectively end Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — a program that has allowed hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers” brought to the United States illegally by their parents to get work permits and avoid deportation. And it would prohibit the president from expanding the program, as he has been reportedly considering doing for as many as five million additional immigrants.
The 216-192 vote included four Democrats voting “yes” — Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, John Barrow of Georgia, and Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia.
Eleven Republicans broke ranks to oppose it — Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Jeff Denham of California, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Mike Coffman of Colorado, David Valadao of California, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, David Reichert of Washington, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Joe Heck of Nevada, Mark Amodei of Nevada, and Fred Upton of Michigan.
The bill won’t get taken up any time soon by the Democrat-controlled Senate, which already left for August recess. And it’s unlikely to be signed into law by Obama, who started DACA through an executive action in 2012 and vowed to veto the bill earlier Friday. Still, the measure, brought to the House floor as a reward for conservative members who agreed to help pass a $694 million appropriations bill to address the child migrant border surge just an hour earlier, will be an important messaging vote for both parties heading into the November midterm elections.
Republicans who voted “yes” will be able to tell their base they voted against Obama’s executive overreach, which they argue helped spur the record influx of unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border that has overwhelmed enforcement agencies.
“It sends a vitally important message that minors wanting to come here in the future will … have absolutely no opportunity to receive DACA benefits,” said Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., during floor debate Friday evening.
It also fits into the recent vote allowing House Republicans to file a lawsuit against Obama for acting without the consent of Congress.
The measure sparked one of the most vitriolic debates in recent memory. Democrats hurled accusations of xenophobia, cowardice and racism against Republicans. At times, they sat back in their seats on their side of the aisle in the House chamber and smirked, sarcastically applauding some of their biggest foes like Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. During other moments, they booed.
“This is one of the most mean-spirited and anti-immigrant pieces of legislation I have seen in all my years of Congress,” said Judiciary ranking member John Conyers Jr., D-Mich.
Republicans shot back, saying that they were not acting out of insensitivity, but out of concern for the separation of powers that Obama, in executing DACA, has allegedly disregarded.
“You failed to act, so don’t point your fingers at us!” Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho, told Democrats, who during their control of the House, Senate and White House did not enact comprehensive immigration overhaul legislation.
Not every Republican voted “yes” on the bill on Friday night, but dissenters did not speak up on the House floor during debate. They chose instead to voice their frustrations in conversations with colleagues outside the parameters of the chamber, saying the decision to hold the vote was not politically advisable but stopping short of using the stormy rhetoric of their Democratic counterparts.
The challenge for some Republicans during this debate was that they agree that Obama has overstepped his constitutional bounds, but they support the general concept that the Dreamers should have some protections against deportation and pathways to legal status.
Diaz-Balart, who for the past year and a half had been fighting for his fellow Republicans to rally behind some version of comprehensive immigration overhaul legislation — and represents a heavily Latino and immigrant constituency in Miami — articulated that tension.
“I will be voting against this issue of DACA, but I don’t criticize folks for being concerned about the president overstepping his constitutional boundary,” he told reporters Friday morning.
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.
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