Three former U.S. Department of Homeland Security secretaries, including two Republicans, are urging the Republican-led Congress not to tie the agency’s funding to the GOP’s fight with President Barack Obama over immigration. The agency is expected to run out of money on Feb. 27 because it wasn’t funded when Congress made appropriations for the rest of the government in December.
Republicans withheld the Homeland Security funding in the so-called cromnibus legislation because they were angered over Obama’s executive actions to protect some 4 million illegal immigrants from deportation. DHS is responsible for enforcing immigration policy, including deportations. The GOP is threatening to fund the department only if Congress overturns the deferred action program for so-called Dreamers -- children of illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 -- and passes legislation to block Obama’s November executive actions affecting illegal immigrants.
“[W]e cannot emphasize enough that the DHS’ responsibilities are much broader than its responsibility to oversee the federal immigration agencies and to protect our borders. And funding for the entire agency should not be put in jeopardy by the debate about immigration,” wrote former DHS Secretaries Tom Ridge, Michael Chertoff and Janet Napolitano in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “The president has said very publicly that he will ‘oppose any legislative effort to undermine the executive actions that he’ has taken on immigration. Therefore, by tethering a bill to fund DHS in FY 2015 to a legislative response to the president’s executive actions on immigration, the likelihood of a Department of Homeland Security shutdown increases.”
Jeh Johnson, the current Homeland Security secretary, shares his predecessors’ views. “Now is not the time for the budget of the Department of Homeland Security to become a political volleyball,” Johnson said in a letter earlier this month to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., according to Politico.
The immigration reform group America’s Voice also said the immigration fight shouldn’t be waged with DHS funding in the balance. “This is not a partisan food fight over a small-bore issue. This is a basic question of whether Congress will fund the agency tasked with protecting the homeland. For Republicans, it’s time to face facts,” said America’s Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry. “They don’t have the votes to stop the immigration policy changes initiated by executive action, and they have taken a hostage – DHS funding – that they can’t shoot. If any of them actually care about living up to their stated pledge to govern responsibly, they must recognize reality and approve a clean DHS bill.”