Washington Holds Its Breath Over Immigration Speech

Carl Hulse NOVEMBER 20, 2014 NYT FD

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 8.58.12 AMImmigration protesters gathered on Wednesday in Lafayette Square Park to call on President Obama to deliver the most inclusive changes to immigration policy possible through executive action. Doug Mills/The New York Times

Good Thursday morning from Washington, where the usual political back-and-forth is on hold until President Obama’s address tonight on immigration. Republicans are already angry, but reaction in Congress may be muted – many members will be leaving town for Thanksgiving. And as mad as the Republicans are, their options may be limited because Congress doesn’t control the immigration agency’s finances.

Mr. Obama’s speech on immigration policy tonight will be praised by most Democrats and lambasted by most Republicans, who contend that Mr. Obama is abusing his authority to provide work permits to millions of undocumented immigrants.

But congressional opponents who believe the best way to block the president’s new initiative is to cut off government funds for it could be in for a severe disappointment.

Officials of the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee have concluded that the government agency most responsible for implementing any new executive order – the Citizenship and Immigration Services – would not be hindered if government funds are cut off; it operates entirely on revenue it generates through immigration applications.

In short, lawmakers have no fiscal leverage over the agency, which could keep operating even if the rest of the government was shut down.

“Congress does not appropriate funds for any of its operations, including the issuance of immigration status or work permits, with the exception of the E-verify program,” the committee said in a statement. “Therefore the appropriations process cannot be used to ‘de-fund’ the agency.”

Republican congressional leaders acknowledge it could be politically disastrous for Republicans to engineer a shutdown just as they are about to take control of Congress.

Leaders of the Appropriations Committee say the best course is to act responsibility, pass a legislative package financing the government for the 2015 fiscal year and then find other ways to squeeze the administration when Republicans control the House and Senate, beginning in January.

The warning that a shutdown wouldn’t shut down the agency handling the new policy was meant to underscore that point.