Buried inside the Senate’s massive spending bill is a provision eliminating the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Public Advocate — an office President Obama created just last year to hear complaints about how immigrants were being treated.
“With illegal immigration costing U.S. taxpayers roughly $113 billion each year, one of the last things we should be doing with precious taxpayer dollars is funding an activist for illegal and criminal immigrants who are detained or have been ordered to be deported,” said Rep. Diane Black, the Tennessee Republican who has led the fight to cancel the office’s funding.
“The administration needs to instead be using this money for its intended purpose of securing our borders and combating illegal immigration,” she said.
The advocacy position is one of several hot-button spending issues that will confront Congress as it rushes to pass the broad bill, which finances all operations throughout the government, before funding runs out this month. It also comes amid a broader budget debate over long-term taxes and spending.
The bill, which runs 587 pages long, was released late Monday night, and Senate Democrats tried to push it onto the floor Tuesday only to be met with Republican objections that put off action for at least a day.
“Everyone should understand that [we’re] delaying on this because they want to read the bill more deeply, I guess — doesn’t really make a lot of sense,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who was trying to allow for amendments to be debated Tuesday.
Sen. Tom Coburn retorted that he thought part of his job was to read legislation.
“We just heard the majority leader say he can’t understand why somebody wants to read this bill,” the Oklahoma Republican said. “That’s one of the problems, one of the reasons we’re $17 trillion in debt is people don’t read the bills.”
The bill is designed to fund basic government operations for the rest of fiscal year 2013, which runs through Sept. 30. House lawmakers passed their version last week, preserving the $85 billion in sequester spending cuts but giving the Obama administration some flexibility to adjust money within the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments.
The Senate version adds flexibility for Homeland Security, Justice and several other federal agencies.
Aides said many parts of the bill have been pre-negotiated with House lawmakers so that this version can clear the lower chamber and be signed into law, averting the chance for a government shutdown at the end of the month.
Tucked inside the bill are provisions that would freeze civilian pay levels; crack down on gun-walking operations such as the botched Operation Fast and Furious; control federal spending for luxurious travel and conferences; and require any new airport screening program to consider privacy and civil liberties concerns before it goes into effect.
Mr. Coburn and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said their initial examination of the bill revealed pork projects that the two men want to eliminate, including $65 million for Pacific Coast salmon restoration, $15 million extra for the Civil Air Patrol, and $993,000 in grants to dig wells for private-property owners.
But eliminating the immigration-advocate position stands out because it appears to be a rebuke to Mr. Obama, yet Senate Democrats included it in their bill.
The move was made in the middle of a burgeoning immigration debate on Capitol Hill and at a time when the Obama administration is taking heat for having released immigrants from detention and back into the community over the sequester budget cuts, even as they are awaiting deportation.