Just a week after House lawmakers introduced a bill to ramp up security at the U.S.-Mexican border, the initiative may be on shaky ground, leaving congressional Republicans back at square one to determine their strategy on immigration this year. Republican members of the House of Representatives shelved a vote scheduled for Wednesday for the Secure Our Borders First Act, introduced last week by Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, citing inclement weather from the blizzard that swept through the Northeast Monday and Tuesday.
Lawmakers had already split on the bill last week, with Democrats and Republicans alike criticizing the measure, and House leaders have yet to decide when it will return to the floor. Congressional Republicans are now left puzzling over how to meet one of conservatives’ most pressing concerns -- border security -- while also attempting to block President Barack Obama’s executive action granting deportation reprieves to millions of undocumented immigrants.
McCaul’s proposal, which he labeled the “toughest border security bill” to be offered in Congress, mandates a five-year deadline for the Department of Homeland Security to expand operations to intercept all unauthorized border-crossers, or face employee penalties. It also authorizes billions of dollars for additional technology and equipment for border security. Senators also introduced the House’s version of the bill last week.
But several Republicans have faulted the measure for not being stringent enough to deter illegal immigration while Democrats roundly decried it for setting unrealistic goals and militarizing the border. Border Patrol agents have also criticized the bill: “This legislation speaks about metrics but frankly does not provide either the strategy or the resources necessary to achieve them,” National Border Patrol Council spokesman Shawn Moran said in a statement Monday.
McCaul issued a follow-up statement last week along with Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to specify that the bill represents a “first step” of a broader border security strategy, and that they would work on additional measures to address other concerns like interior enforcement, which they said falls under the jurisdiction of a judiciary panel.
Following the decision to push back the vote, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised the move on Twitter, saying the bill could now be “married” with a separate bill addressing enhanced enforcement in the interior.
Thanks to house of Rep not moving ahead w BorderSecurity bill. It wld not secure border. Now House has time to marry that w Judiciary bill
â€” ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) January 27, 2015
But other Republicans are also reportedly weighing the merits of waiting for the Senate to decide on a bill aimed at blocking Obama’s executive actions on undocumented immigrants. That bill, approved by the House earlier this year, would fund the Department of Homeland Security through the end of the fiscal year while cutting off funding for the executive actions and reversing a 2012 program granting deportation relief to undocumented immigrants who arrived as children.
The president has already pledged to veto the bill, and it is expected to fail a Senate vote. But the Senate has yet to take it up, and some conservatives have warned the Senate would divert attention from the border bill to avoid addressing the Homeland Security funding proposal.
With lawmakers reformulating their strategies on border security and the Homeland Security funding bill, it’s unclear where the Republican-dominated Congress can make its mark on immigration legislation this year. The bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013 has become a faraway memory, with only piecemeal bills left as viable options in a sharply polarized legislative environment.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaking at a news conference Tuesday, remained noncommittal about the border bill’s future. “We’re going to have to walk through all of this with our members,” he told reporters, the Hill reported. “When we’re ready to move, we’ll move.”