CHN: Showdown on Immigration and Homeland Security Funding Comes to a Head in Congress
The fight over funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the President’s executive action on immigration came to a head in Congress last week. A partial government shutdown was averted at the last minute with a temporary stop-gap spending measure that will keep DHS funded through March 6 while the House and Senate try to work out their differences.
Department of Homeland Security Appropriations:
When the previous Congress passed the CRomnibus back in December funding all other government agencies through the end of FY2015, Republicans insisted on including only stop-gap funding for DHS (the department that houses all of the agencies in charge of immigration and border policies) in response to President Obama’s executive action on immigration issued last November. That short-term funding was to expire at midnight on Friday, Feb. 27, threatening the shutdown of a vital government agency.
In January, the House passed (236-191) a bill that would fund DHS through the end of the current fiscal year, but that would block funding for the implementation of Obama’s immigration executive order. In the Senate, however, 60 votes were needed to pass a procedural hurdle and bring the bill (H.R. 240) to the floor for a vote, and Democrats repeatedly stopped Republicans from reaching this threshold. The White House had threatened to veto the House bill, which would have led to a shutdown of the department even if it had passed both chambers of Congress.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made a deal with Democrats to pass a “clean” spending bill, stripping from the House bill the language defunding the executive action, and vote on a separate bill containing the anti-immigration language. The clean $39.7 billion spending bill to fund DHS through the end of FY15 passed (68-31) the Senate last Friday. Later in the day, Senate Republicans also tried to bring up S. 534, a bill that includes the House’s language to defund the President’s executive action. Democrats blocked the bill (57-42) from clearing a procedural hurdle to move forward.
Many members of the House GOP, however, refused to pass a spending bill without the immigration riders. Instead, the House voted (228-191) on Friday to appoint a committee, known as a conference committee, of Representatives and Senators to resolve disagreements between the House and Senate versions of the bill. To avoid a shutdown of DHS, the House tried to pass another stop-gap spending measure, known as a continuing resolution or CR, to keep the department funded through March 19. This measure failed (203-224), however. With only hours left before the deadline, a deal was worked out among House and Senate leaders to extend funding for a week. The Senate reluctantly passed (by voice vote) a CR (H.R. 33) funding DHS through March 6. The House followed suit (357-60), and the President signed the bill late Friday evening. The Senate is expected to vote on whether to move forward with a conference committee for a longer-term resolution Monday evening, but Senate Democrats are expected to block that proposal, leaving the funding of DHS past this week uncertain. There has been speculation that a way out might be found through the use of a little-known House rule. Under House rule XXII, if an impasse exists as will occur if as expected the Senate rejects going to conference over the DHS appropriation, any House member can move to take up the Senate version of the bill and it must be brought to the House floor. Under this scenario, a House Democrat could offer the Senate’s DHS funding through the end of the fiscal year, with no restrictions on the President’s immigrant executive actions. That could pass with mostly Democratic and some Republican votes. Such an outcome might be welcome for Speaker Boehner, who is not anxious to see DHS shut down. He could say it was beyond his control to get around this rule. The only clarity in this situation is that House Republicans are divided on how far they should go in tying DHS funding to the President’s executive actions.
DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has repeatedly said a continuing resolution or shutdown would have serious consequences. A continuing resolution holds up many of the grants the department gives to state and local agencies for critical security and safety work and prevents agencies from starting new projects or hiring additional needed personal. According to an analysis of DHS data by the Center for American Progress, more than half of agency employees – 130,000 people – would have to work without pay in the event of a shutdown, and another 30,000 would be furloughed without pay. Grants to state and local public safety and security agencies would be put further on hold, delaying and disrupting critical funding for equipment, safety gear, emergency vehicles, safety upgrades, and staffing. Among those are $680 million in grants that help fire departments around the country and more than $1 billion in grants that help cities prevent and prepare for terrorist threats and attacks.
According to CQ, the three-week timing of the original continuing resolution sought by the House was related to an anticipated federal court action regarding the executive action. In mid-February, a federal district court judge in Texas temporarily blocked the Obama Administration from moving forward with two of the biggest initiatives under the President’s executive action, the expanded Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA+) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), while a lawsuit challenging the action made its way through the courts. In response, the Department of Justice filed a notice of appeal and made an emergency request to stay the district court’s ruling pending a full appeal. The emergency request could be decided much more quickly, potentially in a matter of weeks instead of months, according to the National Immigration Law Center. The DACA+ and DAPA initiatives, if allowed to go forward, would mean nearly 4 million undocumented immigrants would no longer have to worry about being deported, including nearly 3.7 million parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents, and nearly 300,000 people brought here as children who have grown up here. They would be able to come out of the shadows, work legally, get better jobs, pay taxes and stop living in fear.
Advocates have been working hard to remind immigrants that the ruling does not impact the “Dreamer” children who were granted relief from deportation under the 2012 DACA program. The Texas court’s ruling also doesn’t impact the executive action’s direction to immigration agents to focus deportation efforts on felons, not families. Advocates are also hoping both the expanded DACA and the DAPA initiatives are allowed to go forward as quickly as possible. In fact, advocates held more than 50 events around the country as part of a National “Ready for DACA/Ready for DAPA” Day of Action in February.
While the DHS spending bill fight is one of the first battles in the new Congress over immigration, it definitely won’t be the last. Stay tuned to the Human Needs Report and CHN’s blog, Voices for Human Needs, for updated information.