WASHINGTON -- House Republicans addressed immigration on Wednesday -- sort of -- by passing a bill that would take aim at President Barack Obama's policy that allows young undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States.
The ENFORCE Act, which passed 233 to 181, isn't about immigration exclusively. Instead, it goes after Obama for alleged overreach on a variety of issues, including Obamacare, education and drug laws. The bill would allow Congress to sue the executive branch for allegedly failing to enforce the law, and it could lead to the dismantling of a key policy protecting some undocumented immigrants.
The move was a far cry from the votes on immigration reform that Democrats want, and stood in stark contrast to the immigration principles put forward by House Republican leadership in January. While those guidelines called for young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children -- often referred to as Dreamers -- to receive eventual citizenship, the bill approved Wednesday could end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy that keeps the same people from being deported.
The Obama administration has used prosecutorial discretion, or the decision to use limited resources to enforce some cases over others, to grant some undocumented immigrants a reprieve, while continuing a high level of deportations more broadly.
House Republicans said passing the bill was necessary because the president had shown an unwillingness to enforce the law and a desire to go around Congress, including through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.
"We have seen a pattern: President Obama circumvents Congress when he doesn't get his way," Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said on the House floor in support of the bill. "But the Constitution does not confer upon the president the executive authority to disregard the separation of powers and rewrite acts of Congress based on his policy preferences."
Democrats were irate that the year's first vote on immigration targeted a policy that helps immigrants, and did not implement some type of reform. They argued that it showed House Republicans may hold the same positions they held last year, when they attempted to defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program but did little else on immigration.
"We cannot fix our broken immigration system, either with more deportations or with specious constitutional arguments, which is exactly what Republicans are attempting to do today with the ENFORCE Act," Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) said on the House floor in opposition to the bill.
Another bill that would require the attorney general to report to Congress if the administration changed its enforcement of laws will go up for a vote on Thursday.
The Obama administration threatened Wednesday to veto both bills should they come to the president's desk, and White House spokesman Jay Carney criticized them during a press briefing, noting the contrast between the legislation and some Republicans' stated desires to work on immigration reform.
"It is, in my view, in our view, pretty amazing that today House Republicans went in the opposite direction by passing legislation targeting the deferred action for childhood arrivals policy that removed the threat of deportation for young people brought to this country as children, known as Dreamers," he said, adding later, "It doesn't require much to look at what House Republicans are doing today and question whether or not they're serious about moving forward on comprehensive immigration reform."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), meanwhile, said in a statement that the bills would be "dead on arrival" in the upper chamber.
"Instead of voting to fix our broken immigration system as the Senate did in June, House Republicans today voted to prevent the President from fixing the problems that are within his constitutional authority to solve," Reid said. "These irresponsible Republican bills are dead on arrival in the Senate. I strongly support the President’s decision to protect DREAMers from deportation. Republicans should try solving problems for a change instead of blocking progress for our nation and making life more difficult for the immigrant community."
But House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) urged the Senate to take up the bill passed Wednesday.
"The fact that the president would threaten to veto a measure requiring him to uphold his constitutional obligations underscores why this bill is needed, and why Senate Democrats should pass it immediately," he said.
UPDATE: 3/13, 5:20 p.m. -- The second bill aimed at Obama's executive overreach passed the House Thursday in a 244-171 vote. The bill would require the executive branch to report changes in the way it enforces laws to Congress.