Immigration bill stalled as Republicans fight internal battles

One month after Republicans took control of both houses of Congress, they have yet to settle on an approach to a major issue facing the country — one that is dividing their party.

The House was scheduled to debate this week on an immigration bill that would tighten border security, but it didn't happen.

Republican leaders said it was because of the Northeast snowstorm, but many conservatives were campaigning against it. In a slick, campaign style video posted to his committee's website, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, laid out the immigration problem as he and many others in his party see it.

"The current state of our border security leaves the door wide open for more sinister individuals to make their way undetected into the United States," said McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee.

By any measure, McCaul's bill, the Secure Our Borders First Act, is ambitious.

It would require the Border Patrol to prevent all unauthorized crossings of the U.S.-Mexican border within five years. It also would provide more money to build high-tech fences and fly surveillance drones up and down the frontier.

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If the agency fails, senior officials would see their pay docked and government-funded travel restricted.

But as strict as the bill is, it's not strict enough for the most conservative members of the House, including U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona.

"This bill purports to be a strong border security bill, but in fact it provides no border security," he said.

Salmon and other tea party-allied lawmakers say the bill is too narrow because it focuses only on the border and does nothing to combat President Barack Obama's recent executive actions that could allow 5 million unauthorized immigrants to remain in the United States. It also does not call on federal authorities to deport them.

In November Obama used his executive power to stop deportations of unauthorized immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens and of those who arrived in the United States as children.

Earlier this month, all three Minnesota House Republicans joined their fellow Republicans in voting to overturn that policy.

GOP leaders have set up a fight with the Obama Administration by insisting that funding will lapse for the Department of Homeland Security at the end of February unless the White House backs down on its immigration policies.

The most conservative members of the House fear that any attempt by GOP leaders to pass immigration bills will either legitimize the executive order or open the door to some kind of legal status for some of those in this country without authorization.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama couched his opposition in terms of income inequality — a new point Republicans have recently started to talk more about.

"The American people expect us to actually protect American jobs and American family incomes by stopping this surge of illegal alien labor that suppresses wages and costs jobs for Americans," he said.

Republican leaders insist they want to address immigration in a step-by-step manner and that enforcement will get its turn.

Tom Cole of Oklahoma is a close ally of Speaker John Boehner.

"We've always said we're going to do this piece by piece so you can't take that position and then turn around and try to pass a comprehensive bill," said U.S. Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a close ally of Speaker John Boehner. "That's not what we believe in as Republicans."

U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Republican who represents Minnesota's 3rd District, backs tougher border security but questioned whether the border bill's goals are achievable.

"You know, you're not going to be able to put a wall around the United States and expect to keep everyone out," Paulsen said.

Even if Republicans manage to rally around a single position, they'll face stiff resistance from Democrats.

That includes a potential filibuster in the Senate and, according to White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz, the president.

"Our bright line thus far has been we will veto anything that includes a rollback of the president's executive actions on immigration."