By Elise Foley on January 20, 2015
WASHINGTON -- There's a major fight brewing in the Capitol over President Barack Obama's immigration policies, and whether funding for the Department of Homeland Security should be threatened to stop them. But you wouldn't necessarily know it from the president's State of the Union address on Tuesday.
Obama only mentioned the word "immigration" twice, and didn't make the impassioned pleas he has in years past for immigration reform. There was no call for a vote on a comprehensive immigration bill, or even smaller legislative measures like help for young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
Instead, Obama's message was that Congress should stop fighting him on immigration. Or, more specifically, that they should stop fighting his executive actions to protect some undocumented immigrants from being deported.
"If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments -- but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country. ... Yes, passions still fly on immigration, but surely we can all see something of ourselves in the striving young student, and agree that no one benefits when a hardworking mom is taken from her child, and that it’s possible to shape a law that upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants," Obama said.
Republicans are aiming to block executive actions Obama announced in November, including a new program to grant temporary authorization to stay and work in the U.S. to the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. Obama also ended a controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement program called Secure Communities -- which the House-passed bill would restart -- and expanded the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA, which gives work authorization to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
Republicans have said that Obama overstepped his legal authority on immigration, and that their vote against his executive actions is about protecting the rule of law and the Constitution.
They are now trying to figure out how exactly to go about funding the Department of Homeland Security, which they must do before the end of February to avoid an agency shutdown. The House voted last week to fund DHS, but added hardline measures that, among other things, block Obama's executive actions meant to protect certain undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to work legally. That bill passed the House 236-191, mostly along party lines.
Senate Republican leaders said last week that their chamber will vote on the House-passed bill, but acknowledged that they'll need to reach the 60-vote threshold to pass the bill themselves -- an unlikely prospect, given Democratic opposition.
Even if a bill like the one passed in the House got to Obama's desk, he would veto it, the White House has said. In his speech, Obama reiterated that point.
"We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix," he said. "And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto."
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