Arizona splits along party lines on immigration vote

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Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Mesa, said that if President Barack Obama wants a declaration of war for the fight against ISIS, he should come to Congress and ask for one./Cronkite News photo

By Jessica Boehm | Cronkite News

Arizona’s delegation split down party lines Wednesday on a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security while stripping funding for President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.

Republicans voted overwhelmingly for the bill that they called a response to Obama overstepping his power in November when he issued executive orders that would shield nearly 5 million immigrants from deportation.

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The funding bill passed 236-191, with only two Democrats voting for it and 10 Republicans opposed. Arizona’s House members followed suit, with all five Republicans in favor and all four Democrats opposed.

Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Mesa, said in a prepared statement that the House was using “the power of the purse … to rein in an executive who has clearly demonstrated his unwillingness to acquiesce to the will of the people.”

In remarks on the floor of the House, Salmon, who sponsored one of several GOP amendments to the bill, called Obama’s action the “unconstitutional and illegal executive order of last year.”

But Democrats called Wednesday’s vote little more than political theater: The bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, they said, and the president has vowed to veto it if it reaches his desk.

“This is a way for them to be able to pound their chest to their constituents and say, ‘See how mean we are,’ and ‘See how fierce we were,’” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, after Wednesday’s vote.

The bill would do more than block the president’s November actions – it would also reverse the administration’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. That program, which defers deportation of immigrants who were brought to this country illegally as children, has allowed 600,000 people to come forward, pass background checks and get authorized to work and pay taxes, said White House Domestic Policy Director Cecilia Munoz.

Gallego said that reversing DACA now is “going to push people back into the shadows and that’s not something we need.”

Obama announced the latest actions just after November’s elections. His orders would expand eligibility for DACA, include parents of DACA immigrants in the deferrals, increase the number of border patrol agents, streamline the visa process and focus deportation efforts on “felons, not families.”

The president’s orders followed months of congressional inaction on comprehensive immigration reform. The Senate passed a bipartisan measure – co-sponsored by Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, among others – in June 2013, but the measure never came up for a vote in the House.

Munoz said in a conference call Wednesday that the president believed he was “well within his legal authority” to take the actions he did in November, and she said he would veto the House legislation blocking his actions should the bill reach his desk.

Munoz said “the priority is to fund the department” with a clean bill. That was echoed by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, who said Republicans were holding the department’s budget hostage.

“It’s absurd and irresponsible to hold this budget hostage, and to once again threaten a partial government shutdown,” Grijalva said in a statement released by his office. “These funds are intended to keep Americans safe – not serve the ideological agendas of politicians with axes to grind.”

But McCain applauded the House vote, saying in a prepared statement that “Congress has a responsibility to respond and push back on his illegal power-grab. Immigration is clearly an issue that must be debated and decided by the representatives of the people, not by executive fiat.”

Salmon’s amendment to the Homeland Security bill focused on another popular GOP target – the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

His amendment said that immigrants enrolled in DACA are exempt from requirements of Obamacare, and businesses may choose to hire immigrants over citizens to avoid paying for workers’ insurance. The amendment says the executive branch “should refrain from pursuing policies” such as DACA “that disadvantage the hiring of United States Citizens and those in a lawful immigration status in the United States.”

Salmon said on the floor that his amendment – which was approved 253-171, also along mostly partisan lines – and others are “protecting the American worker.”

Gallego disagreed.

“This is, again, just more gamesmanship and just playing political games by the Republican Party,” Gallego said.

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