WASHINGTON, D.C. — The House in a party-line vote last week passed an amendment that roiled the debate over immigration.
Lawmakers voted 224-201 to stop President Barack Obama from carrying out a policy that grants temporary legal status to young people who were brought into the country illegally as children. All but six Republicans voted for it; all but three Democrats voted against it.
The amendment’s impact would fall on the so-called DREAMers, residents in their teens and 20s who had faced potential deportation and who are a key constituency in the effort to overhaul immigration law. The House vote, believed to be the first this year on an immigration-related matter, signaled rocks ahead as Congress debates the controversial topic.
The Obama administration’s policy has been to focus deportations on people who have committed crimes, discouraging enforcement against young people or adults who have not gotten into trouble.
Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican and a hard-liner on immigration, charged Obama’s move to shield a class of people from deportation was unconstitutional.
“The president does not have the authority to waive immigration law, nor does he have the authority to create it out of thin air, and he’s done both,” King said, through a series of executive branch memos that he likened to “administrative amnesty.”
Rep. Keith Ellison , D-Minn., argued Obama was within his authority.
“The fact is, the executive branch has the authority,the right to decide that they will take action on some cases and will take action on others in a prioritized fashion,” he said.
Others said the amendment was too incendiary to make it to final passage, but would make it more difficult for Congress to reach any sort of agreements on changes to immigration laws.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., voted for the amendment. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., voted against it.
Local enforcement upheld
As the House considered a homeland security spending bill, lawmakers voted to continue allowing local law enforcers to play a role in enforcing immigration laws.
An amendment by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., would have ended the so-called 287(g) program that pays state and local police to partner with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to detain individuals suspected of being in the country illegally.
Polis said the arrangement encourages racial profiling. He pointed to controversies surrounding Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, who has used the powers aggressively.
“By allowing local police officers to effectively act as federal agents and immigration officials, it not only increases crime by taking local cops off the beat and not only costs taxpayers money at a time when we have an over $600 billion deficit, but it also creates fear in Latino communities and in other immigrant communities,” Polis said.
Rep. John Carter, R-Texas spoke against the amendment.
“Robust enforcement of our immigration laws is critical to our national security,” he said. “Clearly, the 287(g) program supports that goal.”
The Polis amendment was killed, 180-245. Kilmer voted for it while Herrera Beutler voted against it.
Detainees to remain at Guantanamo
The House killed a bid to permit the release of most of the 166 detainees still being held at the government’s Guantanamo Bay camp.
Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., proposed that individuals placed in the camp before 2006 be considered for release. Unlike those sent to the center in 2006 from secret CIA prisons, many of those who are still there from earlier transfers “were simply not as deserving of indefinite detention,” he said, estimated their number at about 150.
“The vast majority never committed an act of violence against the United States or any of its allies,” Moran said.
Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., urged the amendment be killed, saying it raised too many questions.
“Who would be released? Where would these prisoners be relocated? And who would they be released to? To Yemen? To the United States?” Dent said. “I simply don’t know by reading this amendment.”
The Moran amendment was defeated, 165-261. Kilmer voted for it while Herrera Beutler voted against it.
Senate impasse on student loans
A pair of test votes last week signaled the Senate still has work to do to avert an automatic increase in student loan interest rates on July 1.
Senators failed to advance either a Democratic or a Republican approach to the rates that will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. The Senate went through a similar exercise last year before agreeing to a deal before the deadline.
Needing 60 votes to advance, the vote on a Democratic bill that would freeze the interest rate at 3.4 percent for two more years on subsidized federal Stafford loans was 51-46.
Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash., voted for the Democratic bill.
The vote on a Republican bill was 40-57. Murray and Cantwell voted against it.
Somewhat similar to a proposal from President Barack Obama, the GOP plan would tie the interest rates for a variety of federal student loans to the 10-year Treasury borrowing rate, plus 3 percentage points. At the May 15 auction rate of 1.75 percent, the rate for next school year would be 4.75 percent, and the rate would be fixed for the life of the loan.
Democrats said the GOP plan effectively would increase rates higher than the current 3.4 percent rate. Republicans said the Democrats’ plan was just another stopgap while their plan was a permanent solution that would keep rates below 5 percent on all new loans.