WASHINGTON — Arkansas United Community Coalition condemned passage of an anti-immigration measure in the House on Thursday that could lead to the deportation of thousands of young immigrants.
"We are gravely disappointed that all four of Arkansas’ congressmen supported this amendment," the Fayetteville-based group said in a statement.
The House voted 224-201 Thursday in favor of a measure offered by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to defund presidential orders that allow immigration enforcement officials to focus deportation efforts on illegal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes. Six Republicans opposed it while only three Democrats supported it.
King said that the policies promoted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton grant administrative amnesty to illegal immigrants. The amendment he offered to a Homeland Security spending bill would prohibit the so-called Morton memos.
Moreover, King said the amendment provided the first test for this Congress on immigration.
"My amendment blocks many of the provisions that are mirrored in the Senate’s ‘Gang of Eight’ bill. If this position holds, no amnesty will reach the president’s desk," he said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee in May approved legislation that would create a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, boost border security and streamline the visa program.
The bill, which was initiated by four Democrats and four Republicans, will be on the Senate floor for debate starting next week.
Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, voted in favor of the amendment to a Homeland Security spending bill.
"Changes in the law should come from Congress, not by the stroke of the executive’s pen," Griffin said. "Let’s have a fair and open debate about the policy, but President Obama shouldn’t do by executive order what he can’t get Congress to do."
Johan Shumate, chief of staff for Crawford, said the vote was cast in favor of preventing the executive branch from circumventing the laws that Congress has passed that deal with the detention and prosecution of illegal immigrants.
Mireya Rieth, executive director of the AAUC, said the amendment was misguided because the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency should have the discretion to focus its enforcement efforts on individuals that pose a public safety or national security threat — not families and students.
Under the "deferred action for childhood arrivals" policy, about 3,000 so-called Dreamers in Arkansas have benefited with another 6,000 qualifying, she said.
"While the House’s action today is a message bill that will likely not become law, it is exactly the wrong message to send, and shows that Arkansas congressmen are out of tune with the priorities of many Arkansas voters, who are already committed to voting in 2014 and demonstrating once again that immigration reform is a priority," AAUC said in a statement.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement denouncing the King measure that would strip protections for so-called "Dreamers" — undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. at a young age by their parents — from being deported.
"This amendment, sponsored by Rep. Steve King, runs contrary to our most deeply held values as Americans. It asks law enforcement to treat these Dreamers the same way as they would violent criminals. It’s wrong. It’s not who we are. And it will not become law," Carney said.