U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL,4) decried legislation passed in the GOP-led House this week that would block President Barack Obama's recent executive actions on immigration and end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Speaking at a Friday morning press conference in Chicago, the two lawmakers also shamed Republicans for "instilling fear" in people who are getting ready to apply for administrative relief under the president's immigration orders signed in November.
On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled House approved a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding bill including amendments that would reverse Obama's immigration plan and defund the DACA program, which grants a two-year protection against deportation for immigrants who came to the United States as young children.
"On the floor of the United States House of Representatives, they passed what I would consider to be one of the most hateful measures in modern congressional history," Durbin said at Erie Neighborhood House, 1347 W. Erie St. "What they said was this: If you are a person who benefits from DACA ... you will not be able to renew your DACA status. Nor if you didn't apply in the past can you file for the first time for DACA. Well how many people will be affected by that Republican amendment? We estimate 2 million young people in America eligible to sign up for DACA. Six-hundred thousand have already signed up for DACA, 30,000 in the state of Illinois."
"There's more to their provisions," the senator added. "They were all equally horrible. They all passed."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled that he does not yet have enough support in the upper chamber to pass the DHS funding measure with the immigration provisions. Doing so would require 60 votes, and there are only 54 GOP senators. It is also uncertain whether every Republican senator would back the legislation as written.
"We're going try to pass it," McConnell said Thursday of the House measure. "If we're unable to do that, we'll see what happens."
The White House warned earlier this week that Obama would veto the funding bill seeking to dismantle immigration policies if it arrives on his desk.
Current funding for DHS will expire on February 27, and Congress has to pass a bill by then to avert a shutdown of the department. Republican leaders have stressed that they want to avoid a shutdown.
Should the DHS funding measure with immigration rollbacks pass the Senate, Gutierrez said a presidential veto would be "sustained" in both chambers.
"To think that they would put your life and your safety in jeopardy by jeopardizing the budget of Homeland Security -- which keeps us safe from internal and external threats -- in order to play games with immigration policy that they know will never become law to make a point. Shame on them," the congressman said.
"They're instilling fear," he added. "That's what they're trying to do."
Durbin, who said the next step is to "defeat this terrible bill that comes over from the House decisively in the Senate," echoed Gutierrez's comments.
"They are trying to create fear," the senator said of the Republicans. "If they can't change the law, they want to make people afraid to come forward and register for DACA and the new executive order, and we're going to fight them on that as well."
Under the president's plan, qualified undocumented parents of children with U.S. legal status who have resided in the country since January 1, 2010 will be shielded from deportation for three years. Among other reforms, Obama's administrative relief extends deferred action to additional undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, but were too old to qualify for the 2012 DACA program.
The application process for the expanded DACA program is expected to open in February. And those interested in applying for the deferred action for parents program can submit applications to the federal government starting in May.
Durbin and Gutierrez, who spoke at the news conference with current DACA recipients and individuals eligible for administrative relief under Obama's executive orders, said they will work to get as many qualified immigrants signed up for the programs as possible.
"We're going to sign 'em up by the millions," Gutierrez said. "And if (Republicans) think they're going to encourage fear and discredit the program, they are sorely mistaken."
Here's more from Durbin and Gutierrez:
Meanwhile, a new analysis by the Migration Policy Institute shows that 155,000 undocumented immigrants could benefit from the president's immigration orders in Cook County, one of the top five U.S. counties with the largest population of people who could qualify for the new programs.
There are 322,000 total undocumented immigrants in Cook County, MPI estimates.
The nonpartisan think tank also looked at the undocumented populations in DuPage, Kane, Lake and Will counties, and the number of people potentially eligible for the two deferred action options.
In DuPage County, 16,000 out of the 36,000 undocumented immigrants could benefit, according to the research. And Kane County has an estimated 21,000 out of 39,000 undocumented immigrants who might be eligible.
Lake County is home to 36,000 undocumented immigrants, 60 percent, or 22,000, of whom could see relief -- one of the highest, county-level shares of people potentially eligible for administrative relief in the country. For Will County, 11,000 of the estimated 23,000 undocumented immigrants might qualify.
Overall, MPI's analysis shows there are 11.4 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, and as many as 5.2 million of them could be impacted by the president's orders.
In other news, Durbin will be part of a six-member congressional delegation heading to Cuba this weekend. U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is leading the delegation.
"It's the first congressional delegation since the president's announcement of the change of relationship between our two countries," the senator said at today's immigration news conference. "We are planning on meeting with a number of people in the Cuban government as well as leaders in the Catholic church in Cuba and members of the civil society."