'Sensible Majority' That Approved DHS Funding Could Address Immigration

03/04/2015 11:57 am ET | Updated May 04, 2015

The following is adapted from a speech delivered by U.S. Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez on the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 4, 2015.

I would like to congratulate the speaker and the Republican majority for coming to their senses and allowing the House of Representatives to pass a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security for the rest of the fiscal year.

It seems odd that I would have to come to this well to congratulate the majority for funding one of the largest and most important departments in the U.S. government.

And I cannot congratulate the majority alone because the bill funding the Department of Homeland Security was passed largely on the strength of Democratic votes.

The vote was strong -- 257 to 167 -- but 182 of those votes came from Democrats.

In fact, every Democrat who voted voted to keep the Department of Homeland Security open and protecting America until the end of the fiscal year, 100 percent.

Only 75 Republicans supported paying our border-security and airport-security professionals.

Mr. Speaker, it should never have come to this.

On the one hand, it should never have come to this because members of Congress should never play around with the paychecks of our fellow government employees and threaten them with furloughs in order to score partisan political points.

The real people with real lives who work at O'Hare and Midway and at ports, airports and border crossings -- the real people with mortgages, car notes, and tuition bills who provide the security our democracy depends on -- do not deserve the way they are treated by this Congress.

Lurching from funding crisis to shutdown showdown to last-minute votes is no way to run the greatest democracy the world has ever known.

We know there is a sensible bipartisan majority that is willing to compromise and do what has to be done to keep the basic functions of government operating; they voted yesterday. And the leadership should find a way to let that sensible majority govern despite those who take every opportunity to make governing next to impossible in this body.

Secondly, it should never have come to this because the premise on which this funding and shutdown crisis rested was never logical or necessary.

Those who oppose the president exercising powers granted to him by the Congress have filed suit in federal court.

They picked a sympathetic judge and have won a temporary injunction on the implementation of the executive actions the president announced in November.

If they really believe in the strength of their case, this threat of a partial government shutdown was unnecessary.

Clearly they agree with me that their case is weak and that the courts will eventually overturn the temporary injunction.

But the logic was always sideways. The very presidential actions that some in the Republican Party object to are not even funded by appropriations made by Congress.

The criminal background checks and adjudication of each person's application is paid for in full by fees of $465 for each immigrant. So this was never a logical funding matter.

With or without funding for the Department of Homeland Security, the premise that the Congress could force the president to deport low-priority deportees who grew up in the United States or who are the parents of U.S. citizens never held water.

Even if people cannot come forward to apply and pass a criminal background check and get to the back of the deportation line, the basic way the president and Secretary of Homeland Security prioritize deporting criminals, drug dealers, and drunk drivers over moms, dads, and DREAMers would not change.

Think about it. It is as if the Republicans were saying they are so upset about their obsession with border security and their conviction that the president is not doing enough about border security that they were willing to defund border security to make their point.

Jon Stewart can't write stuff that good. And he doesn't have to.

But here is the biggest reason why it did not have to come to a shutdown showdown. Republicans in the House could have taken action last year or the year before to fix a lot of what is broken about our immigration system so that we do not have to continue this fiction about deporting 11 million people.

They could have had a vote to reform our immigration system so that people can apply for visas and come legally in the first place rather than being forced into the black market.

They could have allowed a vote that put E-Verify in place, put serious sanctions and jail time for employers in place, and targeted our enforcement resources on felons and not families.

I stood here nearly every week last year and said if the Republicans failed to act, the president would be forced to act within the limits of current law to rescue American families and target our enforcement resources.

I was right. And, for the record, I told you so -- using a countdown right here on the House floor.

The coalition to pass reform, which is made up of almost all of the Democrats and about a third or more of the Republicans -- the same coalition that enacted the bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security in yesterday's vote -- existed then, and it exists today, if our leaders are willing to work together to address immigration reform.

It is not too late, and I predict that the Republican Party will continue boxing itself into a corner until it addresses this priority American issue.