Steve King
U.S. Representative Steve King (R-IA 4th) speaks during the Freedom Summit in Greenville, South Carolina May 9, 2015. King recently introduced amendments on the house appropriations bill that would prohibit the White House's from discussing immigration policy in trade negotiations and defending itself in a major court case. REUTERS/Chris Keane

The vast majority of Republicans in Congress not only oppose President Obama’s immigration policies, they don’t even want his administration to discuss them. On Wednesday, legislators approved an amendment to block the White House from defending its immigration policies in court. The amendment passed 222-204 along party lines, with 19 Republicans and all Democrats voting against it. A strong Republican majority voted to prevent the President from discussing immigration in free trade negotiations, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), in a separate vote. Both measures were passed as amendments on the funding bills of relevant departments. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is currently responsible for arguing the administration’s position on immigration, while the Commerce Department is involved in on discussions of TPP.

By making funding for both departments contingent on a virtual immigration gag order, amendment sponsor Steve King’s (R-Iowa 4th) hopes to reign in what he describes as an “unconstitutional executive amnesty position.” President Obama announced last fall that he would provide up as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants with temporary deportation relief and work permits through prosecutorial discretion. That program was meant to start in May, but was put on hold after a coalition of 23 states led by Texas sued the administration arguing that the deferred action programs, one aimed at undocumented youth (DACA) and another at their parents (DAPA) are unconstitutional.

“A lot of money has been spent and wasted in an attempt to, let’s say — the gracious way to say it would be to stretch the Constitution beyond any bounds that it had been stretched before,” King said.

A Texas District Court that already froze President Obama’s programs is expected to strike down or further delay their implementation, but may not rule on the constitutionality of DACA and DAPA. That’s because there are other things at stake in the case, such as rulemaking procedures and standing. Is the President allowed to change an immigration enforcement rule to give benefits like work authorization to those who were previously ineligible? Do states have the right to sue the federal government over immigration policies? How much potential harm to the have to prove to have standing? By preventing the DOJ from paying lawyers to argue the case, Obama would hypothetically have to concede defeat on all of these question raised in the lawsuit, and rescind his executive orders. Opponents of the King amendment argue that the Administration should be allowed to make its arguments in court.

“It is unfair for us to deny the executive branch an opportunity to put forth its arguments in court,” Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pennsylvania 2nd) said, opposing King’s amendment. "This is not the appropriate bill for this," he added.

As for the TPP restrictions engineered through appropriations to the Department of Commerce, opponents said that it would overly complicate delicate trade negotiations. For example, a TPP deal could include an expansion in visas for foreign tech experts. Previous free trade deals such as Nafta have included increases in the number of visas available for foreign workers. King defended the amendment, saying that the measure was another opportunity to steer executive immigration policy.

“It has been an important issue to maintain the separation of immigration policy and the Congress from the executive branch negotiations in trade,” King said.

President Obama is expected to veto the current version of the appropriations bill. His administration has already threatened as much, partially because of amendments that require a roll-back on his Cuba policies, legalize some undocumented immigrants who serve in the military. Current spending bills also cut funding for the departments of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation, according to the White House.

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