King to Napolitano: Change immigration policy or I'll see you in court

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) on Thursday asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to reverse the administration’s new immigration policy or threatened to file a lawsuit to overturn it in court.

Napolitano was making her first appearance on Capitol Hill since the White House announced its policy changes, which will be carried out under her department.

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Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, Napolitano vigorously defended the policy, which allows the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to exercise its prosecutorial discretion for certain illegal immigrants under 30 years of age who wish to defer their deportation from the country.

“Representative, I will not rescind it,” said Napolitano. “It is right on the law. It’s the right policy. It fits within our prosecutorial authorities.”

King accused the Obama administration of violating the Constitution when it announced the new rules for certain young illegal immigrants.

The administration’s announcement bypassed Congress’s approval and came in the wake of stalled legislation on Capitol Hill that addresses similar immigration changes. Under the new rules, the DHS will allow eligible illegal immigrants to apply for 2-year work permits.

“It looks almost as if this was almost written anticipating the Constitutional objection that I assure you I will bring,” said King. “There is a separation of power. The executive branch cannot legislate by executive order by memorandum.”

“I do not [accept the use of prosecutorial discretion] when it deals with a work permit that’s ordered to be issued that doesn’t exist in the United States Code. That is the province of Congress. So I thank you for being here today, but we will see each other down the line in litigation.”

Moments before King blasted Napolitano, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) took to the House floor to lay out the argument made by more than 100 Democrats in a letter sent to Obama Wednesday, in which they pledged their support for the administration’s new policy.

Gutierrez pointed to King’s effort to sue the federal government over the new policy and said that his colleague and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has said he opposes much of the new policy, are going after the wrong illegal immigrants.

With limited law enforcement resources, manpower should be focused on deporting criminals who came into the country illegally, and not otherwise law abiding young people, he said. 

“Mr. King of Iowa wants to sue President Obama — take him to court — because Mr. King is so determined to deport every last young person who is Dream Act eligible,” said Gutierrez in his floor remarks.

“Apparently, when Mr. King and Mr. Romney look at the winner of your school science fair, or a young immigrant eager to become a soldier, they see a threat to our national security.”

Nearly every Republican on the panel grilled Napolitano over the new immigration policy, including Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who voiced similar concerns to those expressed by King. Napolitano appeared before Smith’s committee for its biannual oversight hearing of the DHS.

“This unprecedented decision ignores the rule of law that is the foundation of our democracy,” said Smith in his opening remarks. “And exercising its responsibility to see that the laws are faithfully executed, the executive branch does have the power of prosecutorial discretion on a case by case basis, but this authority cannot be used to systematically dismantle our immigration laws.”

Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) raised questions of whether the influx in illegal immigrants being granted temporary work permits would affect the ability of legal U.S. residents to get jobs.

Napolitano said she had labored over that issue “deeply” in considering whether to issue the administration’s new immigration policy changes.

"This was an issue that I thought about deeply before I wrote my memorandum because jobs for Americans are very important,” said Napolitano.

“My conclusion was, and we probably differ on this, but my conclusion was there are lots of different ways to stimulate job creation.

“Some of them are before the Congress now, but we shouldn't balance the American economy on the backs of children who were brought here...” said Napolitano, as Gallegly cut her off to reclaim his time.

— This story was updated at 4:09 p.m. to reflect it was Gallegly that questioned Napolitano., and updated again at 8 p.m.