WASHINGTON -- The Republican House voted on Thursday to kill nearly every action by the Obama administration to reform the immigration enforcement system, approving amendments that would separate U.S. citizens from their undocumented spouses and end prioritization of deporting dangerous unauthorized immigrants.
"The administration is now saying, 'I don't like the laws, I won't enforce them,'" Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) said in support of an amendment proposed by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). "It would be equitable to an officer saying, 'I'm not going to enforce any drug laws, because I want to wait -- I may see a bank robber.'"
That Republican amendment, and the 11 others offered and adopted by the GOP, stripped funding from government programs meant to make the immigration process, and treatment of immigrants, more humane and targeted toward the most dangerous. Many of the adopted measures transferred funding to border security, even though Customs and Border Protection would receive a $208 million increase in funding under Obama's proposed fiscal year 2013 budget.
Republicans have generally opposed every action by the Obama administration on immigration, even though deportations increased to record levels under his watch.
King's amendment -- one of the two that were introduced by the immigration hardliner and later approved -- promotes deportations and splitting up Latino families -- it would prohibit funding to implement the "Morton Memo," a document from Immigration and Customs Director John Morton in June 2011 that lays out priorities for deportation based on the fact that funding is too limited to deport all of the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the country. ICE took up a review in August 2011 under those guidelines to close deportation cases deemed low-priority -- an effort that so far has been less fruitful than expected.
Still, the administration and advocates argue that with limited funding, this type of prosecutorial discretion is necessary.
"You're going to go after the dangerous gang member before you're going to go after someone that is double parked or jaywalking," Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said in opposition to the amendment. "That is what police do all over the United States."
Another adopted amendment, proposed by Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), would ban the administration from granting waivers that would allow some undocumented family members of U.S. citizens -- spouses, parents and children -- to stay in the country while applying for legal status, which was proposed by Obama in January. Under current policy, those immediate family members must leave the country before they can return, without knowing when exactly they will be reunited with their U.S.-citizen families.
"This proposed rule ... makes it easier for illegals to stay in our country unlawfully," Graves said on the House floor. "But the core impact of the proposed rule would be to encourage relatives of U.S. citizens to come to the U.S. illegally."
Other adopted amendments included cutting funding for the ICE public advocate, a position created in February to work with stakeholders on their concerns about the system; blocking funding for a 2000 executive order that would aid non-English speakers; and banning so-called "sanctuary cities," which instruct police to avoid asking about immigration status because it is a federal duty.
Two Democratic amendments were adopted: Rep. Keith Ellison's (D-Minn.) amendment aimed at preventing racial profiling and a measure from Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) to limit the use of unmanned drones.