By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Florida Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives aren’t on the same page when it comes to dealing with President Obama’s recent executive action relieving millions of undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation.
This week, U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen voted against a bill sponsored by fellow Republican congressman Ted Yoho. The bill was a one of several aimed at opposing Obama’s immigration action.
Yoho’s quixotic bill, which nullifies Obama’s immigration actions, might help avoid a government shutdown on Dec. 11. The House narrowly passed it Thursday, and while the Senate doesn’t plan to act on it and Obama has vowed to veto it, Republican leadership hopes the vote defuses enough conservative anger at Obama that the conference can pass a funding bill next week without immigration language attached that could send the government into another shutdown.
So at the center of the immigration storm now stands a man who never held elective office before last year and ran his campaign out of a backyard shack, a tea party congressman who would almost certainly have found himself standing on the sidelines if he hadn’t filed his bill when he did.
Yoho introduced his Executive Amnesty Prevention Act (the name was later changed to Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act) the same November day that Obama issued his sweeping executive actions changing the enforcement of immigration laws to shield upwards of five million undocumented immigrants.
… It had to be tweaked before it hit the floor. There were unintended consequences in the original drafting, which were pointed out by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), both immigration attorneys. The final version declares that presidential exemptions of categories of immigrants from deportations would be “null and void and without legal effect.”
After the bill snaked its way through leadership, it passed 219-197 with only seven Republicans opposed and three others voting present. Leaders hope this is the first step in an effort to keep the GOP from embracing another disastrous government shutdown. Conservatives got to vote against Obama, but without touching funding.
The two South Florida legislators were among seven Republicans voting against Yoho’s bill. Both Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen are Hispanic Americans who have been in the U.S. House for a long time. Diaz-Balart, in particular, has been a key figure in the House working to get bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform passed for many years.
Last year, however, House leadership told Diaz-Balart and others that the House would not be taking up immigration reform ahead of the midterm elections.
The announcement was a big blow to any chances of immigration reform. At the time, Diaz-Balart said inaction on immigration before the election was bad news for reform in the foreseeable future.
However, both lawmakers still have said prioritizing comprehensive reform is the way to go.
In a joint statement after the vote, Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen stressed the need for comprehensive immigration change.
“The president himself has stated that ‘there’s a limit on what [he] can do,’” Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen said in their statement. “We continue to believe that the only legal and permanent solution is for Congress to pass legislation that will strengthen our borders, adhere to the rule of law, offer a humane solution to those living in the shadows, modernize our visa system and bolster the economy.”
…The Republicans who opposed it were a mix of those who support a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws and those who don’t and who said Thursday’s symbolic action wasn’t strong enough to combat Obama’s action.
Diaz-Balart had pushed for comprehensive immigration legislation earlier this year and was highly critical of House leadership when they told him the legislation was dead for the year. In a press conference at the time, he called the July decision to forgo comprehensive legislation “disappointing and highly unfortunate” and said it was “highly irresponsible not to deal with the issue.”
Besides action from House Republicans, which is mostly symbolic because Yoho’s bill won’t pass in the U.S. Senate and the president will veto it, states have also filed a lawsuit against Obama.
This week, Texas– along with 16 other states– filed a lawsuit with a U.S. District Court aimed at stopping the implementation of Obama’s executive order.