U.S. House rebukes Obama on immigration

December 05, 2014 07:33 am | Updated November 17, 2021 12:15 am IST - WASHINGTON

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, December 3, 2014.  Texas is leading a 17-state coalition that sued the Obama administration on Wednesday over its executive order to ease the threat of deportation for some 4.7 million undocumented immigrants, Abbott said.   REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz   (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY IMMIGRATION POLITICS)

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, December 3, 2014. Texas is leading a 17-state coalition that sued the Obama administration on Wednesday over its executive order to ease the threat of deportation for some 4.7 million undocumented immigrants, Abbott said. REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY IMMIGRATION POLITICS)

Emboldened Republicans issued a stern but symbolic rebuke to President Barack Obama over immigration on Thursday, passing a bill in the House of Representatives declaring his executive actions to curb deportations “null and void and without legal effect”.

Even as emotions ran high in debate on the bill, many involved acknowledged it was mostly a sideshow as Republicans struggled to find some way to undo what Mr. Obama has done not just register their disapproval. Party leaders acknowledged their options were limited given Mr. Obama’s veto power, and no clear solution beckoned, even as Republicans prepare to take full control of Congress in January after sweeping last month’s congressional elections.

Outraged Democrats, immigrant advocates and the White House said Republicans were voting to tear families apart and eject parents. Mr. Obama’s executive actions last month will extend deportation relief and work permits to some 4 million immigrants here illegally, mostly those who have been in the country more than five years and have children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. He also reordered law enforcement priorities and expanded an existing deportation deferral program for immigrants brought illegally as kids.

“Rather than deport students and separate families and make it harder for law enforcement to do its job, I just want the Congress to work with us to pass a commonsense law to fix that broken immigration system,” Mr. Obama said ahead of the vote.

Even the bill’s supporters acknowledged that the bill, which says Mr. Obama was acting “without any constitutional or statutory basis”, was mostly meant to send a message. It was part of a two-part strategy by House Republican leadership to appease conservative immigration hardliners without risking a government shutdown. After gaining control of the Senate and adding to their majority in the House, Republicans pledged they would prove to Americans that they were ready to govern, not just obstruct the President.

Yet a bigger battle might lie ahead as conservatives push to use must-pass spending legislation to block Mr. Obama.

Republicans hoped that after approving the bill, the party would move on next week to vote on legislation to keep most of the government running for a year, with a shorter timeframe for the Homeland Security Department, which oversees immigration. The idea is to revisit Homeland Security early next year when Republicans will control both houses at the Capitol and have more leverage. The current government-funding measure expires Dec. 11 so a new one must pass by then.

But that approach doesn’t go far enough for some immigration hardliners, goaded on by outside conservative groups that donate massive amounts of money to candidates and tea party-aligned senators including Ted Cruz of Texas. They say the only real way to stop Mr. Obama is to include language in the upcoming spending bill to block any money for his actions on immigration.

Republican leaders fear such spending-bill language could court an Obama veto and even a government shutdown. That’s something they’re determined to avoid, a year after taking a political hit for provoking a 16-day partial shutdown in an unsuccessful attempt to overturn Mr. Obama’s health care law.

Democratic lawmakers rallied behind the President Thursday, and immigrant advocates warned Republicans would be alienating Latinos heading into 2016 presidential elections in which the rapidly growing Hispanic vote is expected to be significant.

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