Last month, immigration reform advocates were optimistic about the future. And they had reason to be after the Senate Judiciary Committee completed its work on a bipartisan bill that would provide sweeping changes to the current immigration system.
Now, however, the mood is less optimistic. One reason is that the more conservative House of Representatives is gearing up for its own discussion of immigration reform. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to take up border security next week.
Another reason for concern is Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King’s amendment to the Appropriation Act that passed this week. King's amendment would prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from using any funds to operate a special program, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, that has halted the deportation of so-called Dreamers, or young immigrants who are in school or served in the military. The program was launched last June by the Obama administration but was opposed by Republicans, who argue the administration is abusing its authority to grant some immigrants a temporary reprieve from deportation.
King’s amendment is troubling for several reasons. First because it's irrational. The deferred action program is administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service and funded by fees generated by applications, not by taxpayer money. Immigrants are required to pay a hefty fee when they apply for such things as a work visa, green card or citizenship. So in reality, it is immigrants and employers that bear the cost of these programs. It’s unclear how King’s amendment would strip away funding for a program that pays for itself.
Second, King’s bill is another poorly thought-out attempt to set immigration policy through the budget process. In 2010, Republican Sens. Jim DeMint and David Vitter attempted to prevent the Obama administration from suing Arizona over its noxious immigration law, SB 1070. The two Republican lawmakers threatened to stop the Justice Department from moving ahead with a lawsuit against the state by depriving the department of the funding necessary to pay for it.
I’m sure that the next few weeks will provide some political theater. I hope it also results in some smart, thoughtful legislation, and not simply more saber-rattling by the anti-reform crowd.