- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2014

Three of President Obama’s GOP partners on immigration warned him Thursday not to try to act on his own to grant legal status to illegal immigrants, saying the border is not yet secure enough from either illegal immigration or potential terrorist threats.

Sens. Marco Rubio, John McCain and Lindsey Graham — who all collaborated with Mr. Obama and Democrats last year to pass a broad legalization bill in the Senate — said in a letter that the president lacks the legal authority to act on his own, and that it would be a mistake anyway, because it would invite more illegal immigrants to try crossing at a time when the border isn’t ready to handle it.

The warning comes as new details emerged about the cushy treatment the Obama administration has given to the tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who surged across the border this summer, some of whom, according to contract records, are offered guitar lessons and housed at a facility that boasts of an organic garden and a fish farm to raise tilapia.

The new letter challenging Mr. Obama marks a stunning turnaround for the three senators, who had battled fiercely with many in their own party to press for action on immigration.

They had previously warned that Republicans needed to take a stand on the issue or else risk losing Hispanic voters’ support, but made no mention of that in their letter, instead saying border security should be the priority.

“No action should be taken to legalize undocumented immigrants who are living and working in the United States until we have properly secured our southern border and provided for effective enforcement of immigration laws,” the senators said.

Border control surged in voters’ minds this summer as tens of thousands of illegal immigrant children and families poured into the U.S. from Central America. Immigration authorities were caught off guard and scrambled to handle the influx — though they admitted that many of the children would likely never be sent home.

On Thursday, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, revealed that one of the top contractors paid to house the children, Southwest Key Programs, charged $329 per child per day at one facility and $316 a day at another.

Southwest Key offered illegal immigrant children at one facility the chance to take guitar lessons and bragged about its tilapia farming operation, organic orchard of orange, lemon and grapefruit trees and a petting zoo with ducks, chickens and miniature ponies.

“In our courtyard we incorporated an international theme to our decor that includes the native flags of each individual client that has been provided [service] at our facility,” Southwest Key boasted in one contract pitch. “There are presently 42 different flags displayed in the courtyard under a beautiful ceiling that is painted blue, with white clouds representing the sky.”

Mr. Obama blamed the surge of illegal immigrant children for squelching his previous plans to take executive action to halt more deportations. The president had promised to act by the end of the summer but put that on hold, with the White House saying he didn’t want to put the issue to voters in the election.

He’s now set a post-election deadline for himself.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters traveling on Air Force One on Thursday that he wasn’t sure of the final timing, promising to try to get more details but saying he couldn’t promise anything.

Some advocates fear that Mr. Obama will push back his own deadline yet again.

In 2012, Mr. Obama granted work permits and tentative legal status to about 600,000 young adult illegal immigrants, who call themselves dreamers.

Immigrant rights activists want him to expand that program to include illegal immigrant parents of U.S. citizens and dreamers, and potentially to raise the age limit so more young adults could apply.

Thursday’s letter from Mr. Rubio, Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham was designed to head that off.

Mr. Rubio had previously backed away from his immigration bill, but Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham hadn’t gone as far as they did in the new letter. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, Mr. Graham criticized Mr. Rubio for seeming to be too scared of “the right” on immigration.

The new letter, however, suggests the two men are again on the same page, along with Mr. McCain, who has gone back and forth on immigration, championing legalization in 2006 and 2007, then saying more needed to be done on the border, then championing the bill yet again last year.

The bill they helped write as part of the Gang of Eight senators would have granted quick legal status to most of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, with an eventual chance at citizenship. Meanwhile, the federal government would boost border infrastructure and add more Border Patrol agents over a decade.

The bill passed the Senate on a bipartisan 68-32 vote, with all Democrats and 14 Republicans backing it. But House Republican leaders refused to bring it up, saying they wanted to focus first on border security.

A fourth Republican, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, joined the three in writing the Senate bill. He did not sign their letter, instead penning his own stern missive Thursday opposing executive action.

Mr. Flake went further though, telling the president to restart a program in Arizona that had prosecuted illegal border crossers. Known as Operation Streamline, it had tremendous success in deterring illegal immigration through southwestern Arizona — though immigrant rights groups said it was too harsh.

“With the recent surge in unaccompanied minors and persistent increases in apprehensions over the last four fiscal years, the border is not secure,” Mr. Flake said in his letter.

Meanwhile, Mr. Grassley — who led opposition to the Senate bill — has asked the Department of Health and Human Services to justify its contract with Southwest Key.

He said it was “disturbing” that HHS asked for more taxpayer money this year to accommodate the children while paying for such plush services from Southwest Key.

A spokesman for HHS did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Southwest Key.

The Washington Times made an open records request for details of an HHS contract with Southwest Key in early July but has yet to receive a response. The law gives agencies a month to respond.

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