Congress leaves town as border crisis drags on

Legislation is DOA; races spark breaks with party

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Facing a humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border, Congress responded last week with go-nowhere legislation that left the issue unresolved as members headed home for the summer recess.

And — proving just how dicey immigration politics are for elected officials — two Colorado Republicans who face tight races for separate offices this fall bucked their party by voting against a GOP-sponsored measure to halt an Obama administration program that shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Reps. Cory Gardner of Yuma and Mike Coffman of Aurora voted against a bill that sought to end a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The 2012 executive order that was put in place by President Obama protects immigrant children who grew up in the United States from being deported.

Gardner and Coffman were among 11 Republicans who voted against the DACA bill. Four Democrats voted in favor of the measure. That bill and a separate border funding measure passed the House of Representatives late Aug. 1.

But neither bill will become law. The Democrat-controlled Senate — which failed to pass its own border funding bill — had already adjourned prior to the House voting on the measures, but the bills would not have passed that chamber anyway.

After the bills passed the House, the president scolded Republicans for passing “extreme” and “unworkable” measures that do nothing to address the thousands of children who have migrated from Central America to the Texas border.

“That means while they're out on vacation, I'm going to have to make some tough choices to meet the challenge, with or without Congress,” Obama said during a White House press conference.

The president had asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to increase border security and hire more immigration court judges to deal with the crisis. Since last year, tens of thousands of immigrants have fled Central American countries to the U.S. border to escape gang violence and poverty in their homelands.

House Republicans instead passed a $659 million emergency funding package that would have provided some of the money needed for the Border Patrol, the National Guard and more judges. However, the bill also included changes to a 2008 anti-trafficking law that would have sped up the deportation of immigrant children.

The bill came a day after House Republicans pulled a vote on an earlier version of their funding package that failed to attract support from Tea Party conservatives.

Democrats blasted Republicans over the border measures. Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Golden called the original bill “a poor piece of legislation” that wouldn't have done anything to crack down on organized crime that is causing the immigration crisis to being with.

“I think it's a microcosm of the Republicans' inability to get anything done of significance in this Congress,” Perlmutter said.

But it was the vote to upend DACA that caused a political stir in Colorado. Gardner is running to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Udall while Coffman is fighting off a challenge from former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff for his 6th Congressional District seat.

Colorado's growing percentage of Latino voters will play a key role in November, as indicated by Coffman's and Gardner's no votes on the DACA legislation.

`Middle path' sought

Coffman said in an interview prior to the votes that the DACA bill was “challenging” for him and that he had not yet made up his mind on how he was planning to vote.

“I think that there should be a middle path on this, but we shouldn't have open borders, and I think the situation we have right now on the border is just unsustainable to this country,” Coffman said.

Coffman later explained his no vote on the DACA bill through an emailed statement.

“Kids who grew up here, know of no other country, and were brought here through no fault of their own, deserve our compassion and an opportunity to earn a path to citizenship,” he said.

Romanoff spokeswoman Denise Baron issued a statement that mockingly thanked Coffman for casting what Romanoff believes is the proper vote.

“It's a shame that it took a strong opponent and a tough election to get the congressman to reverse his votes for the moment and suspend his attack on DACA,” Baron said.

Gardner also said prior to the bills being brought for a vote that he wasn't sure how he would end up voting, saying he had yet to see the “final details of the language.”

Gardner ended up voting against the DACA measure, a move that drew a quick reaction from the Udall campaign, who implied that Gardner wouldn't have voted the same way had he not been running for Senate.

“While this may seem like a sudden about-face, Coloradans know that Congressman Gardner is only trying to hide from his true agenda and that the only thing that has changed are Gardner's ambitions,” Kristin Lynch, a Udall spokeswoman, said through an emailed statement.

The immediate border crisis aside, Congress has gone yet another period without passing anything close to comprehensive immigration reform. And, with Latinos expected to make up about 12 percent of the electorate this fall, Democrats will surely use the issue to their advantage in trying to paint the GOP as a party that refuses to do anything about this issue.

But Gardner said election-year politics isn't what matters when it comes to the issue of immigration reform.

“I don't think you can look at it through the eyes of elections,” Gardner said. “I think you have to look at it through the eyes of what's happening. We have a broken immigration system that needs to be fixed, regardless of any election.”

“When things don't get fixed, I don't care who the voter is, they're going to carry that out on anyone who is in charge.”

But Perlmutter said Gardner's party is being run by the wrong people and said he hopes that Republicans will pay the price come November.

“You have the real ideological purists who don't like immigrants and don't like immigration, who don't think there is any role of government in just about anything ...” Perlmutter said.

“Right now the purists and the ideologues are running the show.”