Stepping up the rhetoric over immigration, the head of the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday night denounced a new bill on border security from Congressional Republicans, charging it was “not a serious effort” to restrain illegal immigration over the southern border of the United States.
“The bill is extreme to the point of being unworkable,” said Secretary Jeh Johnson in a written statement sent to reporters, as he accused Republicans of creating a plan that “undermines the Department of Homeland Security’s capacity to adapt to emerging threats, and politicizes tactical decisions.”
The bill, H.R. 399, was approved by a House committee on Wednesday, and is expected to be up for a vote next week in the full House.
“The ‘Secure Our Border First Act of 2015’ voted out of the House Homeland Security Committee last night is not a serious effort at legislating border security – and its authors know it,” Secretary Johnson said bluntly, as Democrats joined him in attacking the plan.
“I urge the Speaker and Majority Leader to pull it from the calendar and instead take action on bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform legislation similar to what passed the Senate in 2013,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the number two Democrat in the House.
GOP also faces internal dissent on border bill
The strong attack by the Obama Administration also comes as Republicans are hearing internal criticism about this border bill.
One GOP lawmaker told me of a conversation he had with a fellow Republican who felt the bill did not do enough – when told it was just step one of a number of immigration-related measures that the GOP would act on, that still didn’t satisfy that Republican.
GOP critics of the bill have seized on a series of issues that they believe should be included in any immigration measure:
+ Ending what some label the “catch-and-release” policy of U.S. immigration authorities where people in the country illegally are caught, but then released before being deported
+ No requirement to ensure that illegal aliens are detained and then returned to their home country
+ No provisions on the enforcement of laws to prevent those in the U.S. illegally from getting jobs
+ No provisions to ensure that immigrants here illegally are not given access to federal welfare programs
+ No requirement to complete a fence along the Mexican border
One problem with that argument is that the Homeland Security Committee – which produced this border security measure – does not have the authority to legislate in those areas.
One GOP lawmaker told me all of those issues would be addressed in later legislation, and that there was no reason to cobble everything together into one bill – because then it would start to resemble a much larger immigration bill which many Republicans had previously opposed.
But that has not won over some GOP lawmakers, and could lead to problems next week when the bill is slated for a vote in the House.
With very few Democrats expected to support the bill, the loss of even two dozen GOP votes could doom the plan – much as an internal rebellion this week over a late term abortion bill forced Republican leaders to yank that measure off the schedule.
The House Rules Committee is set to review the bill on Monday; a vote is tentatively set in the House for Wednesday January 28.