WASHINGTON – Philadelphia-area Republicans joined most of the rest of their GOP colleagues to help pass a bill Friday night aimed at addressing the crisis along the southern border, though the plan stands no chance of becoming law.
They also supported a plan to curtail a program aimed at protecting illegal immigrants who live in the U.S. after being brought here as children -- a bill that brought about an emotionally charged debate and that could have long-term political implications for the GOP as the party tries to appeal to a broader swath of voters.
Pennsylvania U.S. Reps. Charlie Dent, Mike Fitzpatrick, Jim Gerlach and Pat Meehan, and South Jersey’s Frank LoBiondo, Jon Runyan and Chris Smith, all supported both measures, including a revised GOP border plan that would provide $659 million for the Obama administration to deal with the tens of thousands of unaccompanied young migrants who have come to the border from Central America.
It included $35 million for states deploying the National Guard and allows for easier deportations of children arriving illegally by changing a 2008 law aimed at preventing trafficking. They would be treated the same as undocumented immigrants from Canada and Mexico.
Local Democrats all voted against both bills, except U.S. Rep Chaka Fattah, of Philadelphia, who did not vote. The border plan passed 223-189, almost entirely along party lines.
The bill never had any chance of reaching the finish line – the Senate has already left for its August recess, having failed to pass its own border bill Thursday night, and President Obama said Friday he would veto the House measures even if it somehow reached his desk. He called them "extreme and unworkable."
Mainstream Republicans, including those from the moderate Philadelphia suburbs, were loathe to leave Washington for a break without passing something to show they were trying to address the situation. Theyobjected to plans Thursday to begin the August recess without a House vote on a bill to provide funding for border enforcement and processing.
"I am glad my colleagues in the House acknowledged that we have an obligation to the people we serve to enact a reasonable response to the crisis President Obama has created by refusing to enforce existing immigration laws," said a statement from Gerlach, of Chester County. "Failing to act would have been incredibly irresponsible."
Gerlach added, "residents of my district are craving strong leadership to address this immense crisis."
Another bill passed by Republicans Friday night would sharply scale back a law that allows Obama to defer deporting undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Democrats said the proposed the change could effectively wind down the program and eventually send home many of the so-called “Dreamers” living here under the law – a group that totals around 500,000. It also stands no chance of Senate approval.
Fitzpatrick, in a statement, said Republicans had three goals Friday: "protect the border, protect the children and prevent this from ever happening again."
"These measures respond to the circumstances facing our nation in a realistic and compassionate way," he said.
Dent said the deferred deportation has "incentivized" parents to send their children to the U.S. illegally. "That policy has to be changed," he said in a news release.
Both bills included tougher language added to accomodate conservative Republicans who had blocked votes on GOP border proposals Thursday. More centrist Republicans, including those from the Philadelphia region, had supported the original bills that were stalled.
Democrats called the latest Republican plans cold-hearted steps that would send children back to dangerous homes, without a chance to make their cases to stay as refugees, and punish others who had no choice in coming to the U.S. and have lived here almost all of their lives, many fully integrated.
President Obama derided the proposals Friday.
"They made it a little more extreme so maybe they can pass it today," Obama said before the vote, "just so they can check a box before they're leaving town."
With no Senate or House consensus, he expects to have to act on his own to handle the issue over the summer. His administration expects to soon run out of existing resources along the border.
Republicans said the measure they passed would provide money to protect the border and quickly send home the tens of thousands of children who have come here illegally. The clarity of the changes would discourage more children from attempting to immigrate with false hopes, Republicans said.
Democrats urged Republicans to consider an immigration reform package that passed the Senate with bipartisan support last year, but has languished in the GOP-controlled House.
A Democratic Senate bill that would have provided $2.7 billion in new funding was blocked Thursday night by Republicans and two Democrats. The Senate left for the summer recess that night.