House votes to block Obama from defending immigration actions in court

House votes to block Obama from defending immigration actions in court

The House on Wednesday endorsed a proposal to block the Obama administration from further pursuing its legal defense of the president’s executive actions to shield illegal immigrants from deportation.

Rep. Steve King’s (R-Iowa) amendment to the annual funding bill for the Justice Department passed on a party-line, 222-204 vote. Nineteen Republicans voted with all Democrats in opposition.

King, one of the most vocal opponents of illegal immigration, said his amendment would prevent the administration from using taxpayer dollars to defend what he described as its “unconstitutional executive amnesty position.”

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“A lot of money has been spent and wasted in an attempt to, let’s say — the gracious way to say it would be to stretch the Constitution beyond any bounds that it had been stretched before,” King said.

Twenty-six states, led by Texas, are suing the administration to challenge the constitutionality of the executive actions. A Texas district court judge in February issued a preliminary injunction to temporarily freeze the immigration executive actions announced by President Obama after the November midterm elections.

Last week, a three-judge panel from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Obama administration an emergency request to lift the hold on the executive actions. The court will hear oral arguments in July in New Orleans to appeal the Texas judge’s decision.

Democrats dismissed King’s proposal as circumventing due process. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department, maintained that the president acted within his constitutional authority.

“It is unfair for us to deny the executive branch an opportunity to put forth its arguments in court,” Fattah said.

The Pennsylvania Democrat noted that the legal process takes time, saying, “the wheels of justice grind slowly.”

King offered a second amendment, adopted by voice vote, that would prohibit the use of funds to negotiate immigrant visas as part of a trade agreement. The wide-ranging appropriations measure also includes funding for the Commerce Department.

Obama administration officials and the House Ways and Means Committee have maintained that the Asia-Pacific trade deal would not impact U.S. immigration policy. King maintained that his amendment should consequently be easy for supporters of Obama’s trade agenda to endorse.

“It has been an important issue to maintain the separation of immigration policy and the Congress from the executive branch negotiations in trade,” King said.

Fattah suggested prohibiting discussion of a topic over the course of international trade negotiations would be unrealistic.

“I may not support what he negotiates, but to say you can’t even discuss something in a negotiation I think is unfortunate,” Fattah said.

The House is expected to take up legislation in the next few weeks to grant the president “fast-track” authority to negotiate trade deals by preventing Congress from amending them.

Wednesday’s votes marked the second time in recent weeks the House has voted on immigration policy. House Republicans stripped a provision in the annual defense authorization last month that would have edged toward allowing illegal immigrants to enlist in the military.

The 19 Republicans who voted against the amendment were primarily centrists and lawmakers who represent large Hispanic populations. 

They were Reps. Mike Coffman (Colo.), Carlos Curbelo (Fla.), Jeff Denham (Calif.), Mario Díaz-Balart (Fla.), Robert Dold (Ill.), Dan Donovan (N.Y.), Chris Gibson (N.Y.), Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Joe Heck (Nev.), Bill Johnson (Ohio), David Jolly (Fla.), John Katko (N.Y.), King, Tom MacArthur (N.J.), Martha McSally (Ariz.), Devin Nunes (Calif.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and David Valadao (Calif.).