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Senate Democrats again block bill derailing Obama on immigration

4 Feb

(Reuters) – Senate Democrats held firm on Wednesday and for the second time this week blocked a Republican proposal to cut off funding for President Barack Obama’s immigration reform policies.

The legislation, which also funds the Department of Homeland Security, failed to get the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate, continuing a political battle as the clock ticks toward the Feb. 27 expiration of funding for the homeland security agency.

Senate Republicans say they intend to make another attempt to advance the legislation on Thursday, partly to call public attention to Democratic moves to block the measure, which has already passed the House of Representatives. Both chambers have Republican majorities.

DHS secures U.S. airports and borders and spearheads domestic counter-terrorism efforts. It also contains the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a small agency that is expected to process the millions of undocumented immigrants who may apply for legal protection under Obama’s November 2014 executive order.

Republicans charge Obama overreached with the 2014 executive order, which shields from deportation the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, as well as a 2012 order that helped undocumented child immigrants, widely known as the “Dreamers” program.

Wednesday’s vote, in which 53 Republicans voted to advance the bill to debate and 47 Democrats voted no, came after one Republican senator, Susan Collins, proposed removing part of the House-passed bill that would drain the Dreamers program of funds.

“I just think it’s not right to send them back to their home countries when many of them have known no other home than America, and they didn’t make the decision to come here, their parents brought them here,” Collins told reporters.

But her amendment did not entice any Democrats to vote to allow debate and amendments on the legislation. Democrats, including Obama, are pushing for a bill to fund DHS without any conditions attached.

Earlier Tuesday, a Senate committee was told a government agency could struggle to process millions of undocumented immigrants who may apply for legal protection under Obama’s 2014 executive order.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services could be overwhelmed by a surge of applicants later this year even if it hires an additional 1,000 workers as planned, said Luke Bellocchi, a former deputy ombudsman to the agency.

Bellocchi said 4.5 million additional applications are expected in the coming months.