Homeland chief faces critics on immigration

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014, before a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on the impact of President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is defending President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration even as Republican lawmakers work to find the best way to stop them.

Johnson was to appear before the House Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday in the first public showdown between the administration and Republican lawmakers since Obama announced plans two weeks ago to shield some 4 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally from deportation and offer them work permits.

“The reality is that, given our limited resources, these people are not priorities for removal. It’s time we acknowledge that and encourage them to be held accountable,” Johnson said in prepared testimony. “This is simple common sense.”

His testimony came as Republican lawmakers returned to Congress from a weeklong Thanksgiving holiday break still divided on how to stop Obama.

Obama’s plan enraged Republicans on the heels of the November elections in which they retook control of the Senate and increased their majority in the House of Representatives.

Conservatives have been agitating to use any government funding bill to block Obama’s moves, but Republican Party leaders fear that could result in a veto by Obama and a subsequent government shutdown, a scenario they are determined to avoid.

Instead some lawmakers are pushing a different approach: a full-year spending bill for most government agencies, combined with a shorter-term measure for departments that deal with immigration.

But conservatives want more and circulated bill language Monday stipulating that no money or fees “may be used by any agency to implement, administer, enforce or carry out any of the policy changes” announced by Obama. They hope to include it in any upcoming must-pass spending bill, forcing a confrontation with Senate Democrats and potentially Obama.

“The president’s decision to bypass Congress and grant amnesty to millions of unlawful immigrants is unconstitutional and a threat to our democracy,” the Homeland Security Committee chairman, Rep. Michael McCaul said in a statement. “I will use every tool at my disposal to stop the president’s unconstitutional actions from being implemented, starting with this oversight hearing.”

Obama also expanded an existing program that grants work permits and deportation deferrals to immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, and reordered law enforcement priorities to focus on deporting new arrivals and people with criminal records.


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