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US Immigration Dispute Threatens Security Agency Shutdown


U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) talks to the media, after a weekly Senate Republican caucus luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 24, 2015.

Another political dispute in Washington is threatening to shut down part of the U.S. government, this time over funding President Barack Obama's immigration policies and the Homeland Security agency.

Money for the agency runs out at midnight Friday, which could furlough 30,000 workers while leaving another 200,000 employees deemed essential still working without pay until the dispute is resolved.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers say they want to approve $40 billion in new funding for the agency that patrols the country's borders, staffs security checkpoints at airports, and protects Obama and his family.

But Republicans want to block funding for the president's plan to halt deportation of nearly five million immigrants who entered the country illegally.

Senate Democrats have blocked the majority Republicans in the Senate four times from passing the homeland security spending plan that cleared the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Splitting the bill

With no end to the impasse in sight, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he would split the budget legislation and call for a separate vote on Obama's immigration policy changes. Another measure would fund the Homeland Security agency through the end of September, but it is not clear whether House Republicans would accept the change in legislative strategy.

VOA Congressional corespondent Cindy Saine reports that Senate Minority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, just told reporters that Senate Democrats are waiting to hear from Republican House Speaker John Boehner before they vote on a separate "clean" bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security on Friday.

Speaking after the weekly Senate policy luncheons, Reid says he needs Boehner to pledge that the House will pass a clean funding bill, that it is no use sending a "hot potato" over to the House that would just come right back.

Reid's comments cast doubt as to whether Senate Democrats will let the vote happen on Friday.

"Serious consequences"

Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson said, "Overall, a shutdown of Homeland Security would have serious consequences and amount to a serious disruption in our ability to protect the homeland."

Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski said Homeland Security employees are working this winter in harsh conditions. "They're out there saving lives," she said, "and we are playing parliamentary ping-pong.''

Republican Senator John Barrasso said it is important to halt Obama's immigration restrictions.

"Congress is the appropriate place to make laws about America's immigration policy," Barrasso said. "It is not something the president gets to decide on his own.''

The immigration orders angered Republicans, who believe Obama's actions go beyond his presidential authority. But House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi says the president’s immigration changes are similar to those taken by previous U.S. presidents, including Republicans.

The president's policies include expansion of a program that protects young immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the United States illegally by their parents. The government had planned to start taking applications to avoid deportation last week, but a judge in the southwestern state of Texas halted the president's orders, a decision the government is appealing.

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