We already knew that House Republicans were preparing legislation designed to block President Obama’s executive actions shielding millions from deportation.
But now the news is breaking that Republicans may go further than that: They are reportedly mulling legislation that apparently would attempt to roll back the enforcement priorities underlying those executive actions.
The initial plan was twofold: Republicans would attach a measure to funding of the Department of Homeland Security that would restrict the use of any money to carry out Obama’s action. They would also pass a measure directly nullifying that action. Both would likely be blocked by Senate Dems or vetoed by the President.
The proposal not only attacks Obama’s latest executive actions on immigration that he announced in November, but reaches back to the 2012 directive that shielded young undocumented immigrants from being deported, as well as a series of 2011 administration memos that changed who should be targets for deportations…
The changes to immigration policy will be offered as amendments to the DHS funding bill, and it is more aggressive than other steps that had been under consideration for targeting Obama’s latest executive actions. Obama’s executive action protects more than 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportations and grants them work permits, and it changes the priorities for which immigrants here illegally should be removed. Doing so satisfies the conservatives in the conference who believed that just going after Obama’s most recent actions wasn’t sufficient.…
The emerging plan blocks funding to carry out the directives outlined by the Obama administration in its immigration executive actions last November, as well as the 2012 program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the 2011 memos, called the “Morton memos.”
To be clear, we don’t know whether Republicans will go through with introducing this. (A previous proposal, from GOP Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama, which is being drawn upon, includes this language.) If so, it will be welcome. It will invite a debate not just about the legality and propriety of Obama’s executive actions, but about what our enforcement priorities should be when approaching what to do about the 11 million, given resources are limited to deporting a small fraction each year.
Some critics of Obama’s executive action have argued that they are mainly focused on the fact that it grants an affirmative reprieve from deportation, and gives its beneficiaries work permits — steps that go beyond traditional prosecutorial discretion.
But the key “Morton memo” — whose implementation the new House GOP proposal is apparently targeting — does not do those things. It merely lays out broad priorities to follow in carrying out enforcement. It doesn’t grant affirmative reprieve from deportation or work permits, as do Obama’s 2012 executive action temporarily shielding people brought here illegally as children and his recent action expanding that program and deferring the deportation of parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents.
The Morton memo — which was authored by John Morton, the director of U.S. Customs and Enforcement — instructed its field officers, agents, and attorneys to give “particular care” to various considerations in deciding how to exercise prosecutorial discretion. It says they should give particular weight to “negative factors,” such as whether the enforcement target poses a “clear risk to national security,” is a “serious felon” or “repeat offender,” or poses a “clear danger to public safety.”
Meanwhile, the Morton memo also says officers and agents should weigh “positive factors” in exercising discretion, such as whether the target is a “long-time lawful permanent resident,” a minor or elderly individual, a victim of domestic violence, or suffers from a serious health condition.
This was in keeping with the Obama administration’s effort to shift enforcement priorities towards serious offenders and away from deporting low-level offenders with jobs or longtime ties to communities.
The new House GOP proposal being considered would appear to restrict funding for even implementing those basic enforcement priorities.
For the longest time, Republicans blasted Obama for failing to “enforce the law.” But when asked directly whether this meant the administration should deport more people from the interior, they tended to sidestep the question. But advocating for the unraveling of the priorities in the Morton memo would appear to offer a very clear “Yes” answer to that question.
Dem Rep. Luis Gutierrez, in a release today, framed the issue very starkly: “Republicans want to make a statement that they want to deport every single undocumented immigrant they can get their hands on.”
Indeed, some anti-“amnesty” advocates forthrightly advocate for this position. They say the threat of deportation dangling over low-level offenders is a good thing, because it discourages illegal immigration and encourages them to get out. As Roy Beck of Numbers USA candidly put it: “Without the threat of deportation, no one will feel they have to leave.”
One wants to know how many GOP officials see it in these same terms. This new proposal, if it is introduced, will invite that question. It opens the way to a debate Democrats should very much want to have.
UPDATE: The New York Times also reports that the emerging House GOP proposal will target the Morton memo.