Three Republican Cuban-American lawmakers from Florida usually oppose President Barack Obama’s immigration policies, but they’re now among just five GOP lawmakers who opposed unprecedented House of Representatives involvement in a key U.S. Supreme Court case challenging Obama’s deportation decisions.
Last week, the House overwhelmingly approved allowing Speaker Paul Ryan to file a friend-of-the-court brief opposing President Barack Obama’s decision to withhold deportation for more than 5 million immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.
South Florida Republicans accounted for three of the five Republicans voting no: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo. The other two were Reps. Richard Hanna of New York, who frequently bucks GOP hard-liners in Congress and is retiring after the current term, and Robert Dold of Illinois.
Five other Cuban-Americans voted for the measure, which passed 234-186. All 181 Democrats who cast votes opposed it.
The Supreme Court on April 18 will hear the case brought by Texas arguing that Obama’s bid to shield from deportation about 5.2 million immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally imposes unaffordable health-care, education, law-enforcement and other costs on them. Texas has been joined by Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Kansas, Idaho and 18 other states.
Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who replaced Ohio Republican John Boehner as speaker last October, acknowledged that House intervention in a case before the Supreme Court was virtually unprecedented, but he said it was necessary to prevent what he called executive overreach by Obama.
2.5 million The number of people deported by President Obama in his first seven years in office, 23 percent more than his predecessor.
Ryan and other Republicans said Obama’s executive orders dating to 2014 amount to the president legislating immigration restructuring without going through Congress.
In a joint statement, Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart said that although individual members of Congress had the right to file briefs supporting court cases, the House as a whole should not do so. Last week’s vote means that the brief filed by Ryan will have the weight of representing the entire body.
“All amicus briefs should carry the same weight, and beginning this pattern may signal to the Supreme Court that Congress is prioritizing certain cases over others,” the two Miami Republicans said.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a first-term Republican from Kendall, went further. He accused Republicans of playing politics with the important issue of immigration.
“For too long, both parties have preferred to score petty political points using the immigration issue rather than passing meaningful reform to secure the border, reform our visa system and find a fair solution for the undocumented,” Curbelo said.
“The surest and most constitutionally solvent way to end the president’s executive overreach is to pass meaningful immigration reform, not by employing empty tactics that ignore the root cause of the problem,” he said.
Two lower courts have ruled in favor of the states, most recently the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans.
The dispute over deportation is part of a broader conflict between President Obama and the GOP-led Congress over his power to issue executive orders.
With only eight justices on the Supreme Court since Antonin Scalia’s death last month, a 4-4 decision after the oral arguments next month would uphold the lower courts’ rulings and overturn Obama’s executive orders protecting millions of parents in the U.S. illegally and their children from deportation.
Immigration has become perhaps the most divisive issue in the presidential campaign, with Republican front-runner Donald Trump vowing to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat of Puerto Rican descent, ridiculed Republican lawmakers, many of whom he said had disingenuously tried to distance themselves from Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration.
“They keep saying, ‘Well, Trump doesn’t represent us. He doesn’t (represent) our views. He doesn’t represent our values,’ and now they want to know where Trump gets all of his anti-immigrant, xenophobic views from,” Gutierrez told reporters. “Try the House of Republicans.”
The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and 60 individual business leaders, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, filed an amicus brief supporting Obama earlier this month.
America’s Voice, a pro-immigration advocacy group, said the vote last Thursday was the eighth “anti-immigration” vote taken by Republicans in the current session of Congress.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and 223 other Democrats filed an amicus brief backing Obama earlier this month, but there was no vote on the brief and it represents them as individuals.
In still another amicus brief, almost 120 cities and counties across the United States on March 8 expressed support for Obama, among them Florida’s Pembroke Pines, Tampa and Sunrise.
James Rosen: 202-383-0014; Twitter: @jamesmartinrose