Immigration, DHS bill stalls in Senate, divides Illinois senators

Dick Durbin on Senate floor
Sen. Dick Durbin addresses fellow senators before the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act vote.

By Christine Smith

Illinois Sens. Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin split along party lines during a procedural Senate vote Tuesday about the Department of Homeland Security’s budget and President Barack Obama’s immigration executive order.

The bill, which would have created a new $40 billion budget for the DHS before its current one expires on Feb. 27, also included a controversial section that would undo Obama’s recent immigration actions. Senate Democrats, including Durbin, who were not onboard with the immigration component, voted against the bill, resulting in a 51-48 vote and its failure. The bill needed 60 votes to advance.

Although Kirk was absent from Tuesday’s vote due to travel difficulties stemming from winter storm Linus, the senator planned on voting for the bill to proceed.

“Senator Kirk believes that those hoping to become American citizens deserve to be governed by laws, not executive orders,” said Kirk’s press secretary, Danielle Varallo. “As he has said, shutting down the security functions of the United States government is not effective leadership.”

However, despite other Republicans voting in favor of the bill’s advancement for similar reasons, many within the Democratic minority argued that immigration should not have been included in this bill. Durbin, who sponsored the DREAM Act and advocated for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was one of the bill’s biggest opponents.

“The Republicans on Capitol Hill are telling us we are not going to properly fund the Department of Homeland Security to protect America unless we can protest what President Obama’s done for 600,000 young people protected by DACA,” Durbin said in a meeting prior to Tuesday’s vote.

“I don’t know who cooked up this political strategy,” Durbin added. “They were not thinking clearly.”

And while some wonder if the two parties will be able to come together to pass a new DHS budget before its fast-approaching deadline, others, like Fred Tsao of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, are not concerned about a potential shutdown of the DHS and believe Congress will do what’s best for the country.

“Obviously this was an attempt by the House and Senate Republicans to voice their opposition to the president’s executive action,” Tsao said. “We hope that cooler heads will prevail.”

The bill could resurface as part of a motion made by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky to later reconsider it.

Photo at top: Sen. Dick Durbin addresses fellow senators before the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act vote. (Courtesy Dick Durbin)