Senate confirms official who will lead Obama’s immigration program

Despite GOP objections, the Senate on Tuesday confirmed the nomination of Sarah Saldaña, to be an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The Senate voted 55-39 to confirm Saldaña, who will head Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE). She will be the first Hispanic woman to lead the agency.

Republicans objected, in part, because she would be tasked with enforcing President Obama’s executive order to issue worker visas to illegal immigrants within the United States.

“She will continue the pattern of lawlessness perpetuated by the president and the political leadership at the Department of Homeland Security,” Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsMcCain: Accepting election results is 'American way' GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Some in GOP say Trump has gone too far MORE (R-Ala.) said. “Congress cannot and must not confirm anyone to lead an agency in DHS or other law enforcement agency who supports executive amnesty.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who originally endorsed Saldaña’s nomination, said Obama has put her in an “untenable position.” The Texas Republican ended up opposing her nomination on Tuesday.

"We’re talking about filling a big [leadership] gap," Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) said. "It’s an agency that has been without a Senate-appointed leader for 16 months."

Democrats said they simply couldn’t win, because Republicans complain about a lack of border security yet hold up the very nominee that would be charged with securing the border.

“How many speeches have we heard on the floor of the Senate that the No. 1 priority on the Republican side is border enforcement?” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked. “Now we hear the opposition of the Republican side to filling the position that is responsible for enforcement of our borders, the position responsible for stopping illegal immigration.”

Durbin said Saldaña was “imminently qualified” for the position and that GOP objections were about Obama, not her.

The president issued his latest executive order last month, which will allow some immigrants with U.S. children to temporarily stay in the United States through worker visas. Obama has also issued an executive order deferring the deportation of “Dreamers” — child immigrants brought to the United States illegally by their parents.

"It doesn’t just punish the president to leave this position unfilled," Carper said. "It punishes the American people."

Later Tuesday, the Senate is also expected to confirm another controversial nomination — Antony Blinken to be deputy secretary of State. Senate Democrats are hoping that once these two are out of the way, Republicans will agree to expedite votes on the remaining 18 nominations. 

In addition to clearing all the nominations, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he wants to complete work on a package of tax breaks and potentially the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which provides businesses a government backstop in the event of a terrorist attack.