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Washington Digest: House blocks Obama’s immigration policy

WASHINGTON — 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’s 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 faced potential deportation and who are a key constituency affected by the overhaul of the immigration law.

The House vote signaled rocks ahead as Congress debates the controversial topic.

The Obama administration’s policy has been to deport people who have committed crimes while 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 he likened to “administrative amnesty.”

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., argued Obama is 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,” Ellison said.

Others said the amendment was too incendiary to make it to final passage, but would make it more difficult for Congress to reach agreement on changes to immigration laws.

Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, both R-Nev, voted for the amendment. Reps. Dina Titus and Steven Horsford, both D-Nev., voted against it.


As the House considered a homeland security spending bill, lawmakers voted to continue allowing local authorities 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 work with Immigration 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 in 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. Titus voted for it, while Horsford, Heck and Amodei voted against it.


The House killed a bid to permit the release of most of the 166 detainees 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 from earlier transfers “were simply not as deserving of indefinite detention,” he said, estimating their number at 150. “The vast majority never committed an act of violence against the United States or any of its allies.”

Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., urged that 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. Horsford voted for it, while Titus, Heck and Amodei voted against it.


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 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.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted for the Democratic bill. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted against it.

The vote on a Republican bill was 40-57. Heller voted for it, while Reid voted against it.

Somewhat similar to a proposal from President Barack Obama, the GOP plan would tie 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 pushes rates higher than the current 3.4 percent. Republicans said the Democrats’ plan was just another stopgap while their approach is a permanent solution that would keep rates below 5 percent on all new loans.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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