WASHINGTON — Even as President Barack Obama prepares to take executive action on immigration, an incoming GOP Senate chairman said Monday he is working on a border security bill and will aim to move it once the new Republican-controlled Congress convenes in January.
Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who is in line to chair the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said his legislation would include a guest worker program to reduce incentives for illegal immigration. It would build on work already done by Congress, including a House bill aimed at ensuring that 90 percent of would-be border crossers are stopped.
Johnson outlined his plans in an interview with The Associated Press amid growing GOP complaints over Obama's plans to act on his own by year's end to address the faulty immigration system. Obama's plans, which could remove the threat of deportation for millions, are emerging as a major point of conflict with congressional Republicans who made big gains in last week's midterm elections.
"Regardless of what President Obama does I'm going to move forward with a very strong border security bill," Johnson said. "I hope President Obama doesn't take that executive action because I think for many people that will poison the well and certainly make it more difficult to solve the immigration problem."
Johnson said he would move his border bill "as quickly as we can" once the new Congress convenes. He said he supports solving the immigration system one issue at a time — the position of most Republicans.
Obama argues that inaction by the GOP House on wide-ranging and bipartisan immigration legislation passed last year by the Senate leaves him no choice but to act on his own. Advocates expect him to expand a 2-year-old program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that temporarily halted deportations and granted work permits to more than 500,000 immigrants brought here illegally as kids.
"I prefer and still prefer to see it done through Congress, but every day that I wait we're misallocating resources," Obama said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Johnson said the deferred action program was responsible for increasing illegal immigration, including the recent crisis of unaccompanied minors from Central America — something administration officials dispute. He said it should be overturned, though he stopped short of pledging to attempt to do that legislatively.
"Is that going to pass? Probably not," Johnson said of any attempt to undo DACA. "I don't think President Obama is going to sign that into law, I'm not sure we'd get Democrats to vote for it. We can talk about it, and we should talk about it."
Advocates are pessimistic that the new GOP-controlled Congress could pass immigration legislation that would be acceptable to the Latino community or that Obama would sign. But Johnson said he's committed to trying. His plans for a border bill are unusual in that it would include a guest worker piece, something that businesses support but some conservatives say hurts American workers.
"The No. 1 incentive is people coming into this country seeking opportunity and seeking work," Johnson said. "We need a functioning guest worker program."