GOP vs. Obama: Immigration Showdown Could Mean Homeland Security Shutdown

February 4, 2015 Updated: October 8, 2018

While Senate Republicans don’t have enough power to defeat President Barack Obama, obstinacy on both sides threatens to force a partial government shutdown.

The Tuesday threat of a filibuster by Democrats stopped a bill in the Senate that would defund Obama’s executive order to shield some 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation.

Republican Congressmen believe Obama overstepped his powers. They are protecting the Constitution by stopping his order, they said.

But the GOP effort already drowning in the Senate, together with Obama’s promise to veto it anyway, demonstrated the Republicans, despite having the majority, grapple for power to oppose the president.

The failed bill in question appropriates the annual funding to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), but excludes the money for Obama’s immigration program. DHS, among other functions, enforces immigration laws. The current funding will run out on Feb. 27. After that all its non-essential functions would stop.

Defunding DHS would successfully undercut Obama’s executive order while most of the department would still function (during the 2013 government shutdown over 80 percent of DHS employees came to work). But the employees would not get their paychecks and shutting the non-essential operations would cost millions.

So, with nobody willing to give ground, that’s how the situation unravels.

Republicans already pushed their DHS funding bill through the House. By blocking the bill in the Senate, they argue, Democrats would rather shut down the DHS, than give up Obama’s order.

Democrats, on the other hand, accuse the GOP of using DHS as a political pawn.

“We are kidnapping homeland security and now let’s have a debate on how much the ransom should be,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) described his impression of his colleagues across the aisle. “No one in America wants us to legislate that way.”

We are kidnapping homeland security and now let’s have a debate on how much the ransom should be.
— Sen. Charles Schumer

The GOP knows it lacks the vote to overcome a Senate filibuster. By putting a controversial provision in the DHS funding bill, the Republicans force the Democrats to block it and so, from the Democrats’ point of view, it is the GOP who should be blamed for the potential shutdown.

The Obama order also gives work permits to illegal immigrants, who were brought to the country before turning 16. Democrats argue such people shouldn’t be blamed for the crimes of their parents, who probably brought them here. Republicans say the move gives foreigners an incentive to come illegally.

Obama said he’d give up the order in exchange for comprehensive immigration reform. Republicans say it would be more palatable to pass one piece of the reform at a time, starting with ramping up border security.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab