The Slatest

Even a Government Shutdown Wouldn’t Stop Obama’s Immigration Overhaul

Incomng Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, front, with Republican Sens. John Barrasso and John Cornyn.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Congressional Republicans remain committed to blocking President Obama’s plans to unilaterally overhaul the nation’s broken immigration system. Their problem, however, is that they appear to be running out of options to do it.

House Speaker John Boehner and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have made it clear that they want to avoid another government shutdown. Instead, Republicans had hoped they’d be able to do the job with a more laser-like cut to the budget by zeroing out funds for the agencies that would implement Obama’s executive actions. The problem there, however, is that it now looks like that’s not possible after all.

Here’s the statement from the House Appropriations Committee, the powerful, GOP-controlled panel that writes the spending bills that keep the government’s lights on (emphasis mine):

The primary agency for implementing the president’s new immigration executive order is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This agency is entirely self-funded through the fees it collects on various immigration applications. 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. Therefore, the appropriations process cannot be used to “defund” the agency. The agency has the ability to continue to collect and use fees to continue current operations, and to expand operations as under a new executive order, without needing legislative approval by the Appropriations Committee or the Congress, even under a continuing resolution or a government shutdown.

In short, not only can’t Republicans kill Obama’s plan with the scalpel (a specific spending bill), there’s not a lot they can do with an ax (a government shutdown) either. The silver lining for GOP leadership, though, is the announcement may take the steam out of their more right-wing colleagues who want a full shutdown to remain on the table.

Meanwhile, things don’t look any more promising on the legal front. GOP assertions aside, there’s no evidence that Obama’s plan is illegal, and most experts agree that the expected moves have plenty of legal precedent behind them. That’s not to suggest Republicans won’t wage a legal challenge, just that they’ll be less likely to succeed in the court of law if and when they do.