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Barack Obama
stated on December 4, 2014 in a statement of policy from the Executive Office of the President:
A bill from U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho attempts to restrict the administration's ability to conduct national security and criminal background checks on undocumented immigrants.
true half-true
Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin December 16, 2014

Does Yoho's bill restrict background checks on immigrants?

House Republicans are so displeased with President Barack Obama’s executive action granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants, they voted to strip White House authority over the matter altogether.

U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, a veterinarian from Gainesville, introduced HR 5759 on Nov. 20, the same day Obama issued guidelines sparing from deportation more than 4 million immigrants who have been in the country illegally for five years or more but have American-born or legal-resident children. Obama’s action lets those immigrants stay for three years and allows them to apply for work permits if they pay fees and pass a background check.

Yoho’s bill, which passed the House along party lines on Dec. 4, sought to stop Obama by taking away the president’s right to act unilaterally on immigration, making such actions illegal. It has widely been viewed as a symbolic gesture, and the Democrat-controlled Senate didn’t vote on it before the end of the session, so the bill died.

But wait: Yoho’s office told PolitiFact the congressman would reintroduce the bill next session -- when Republicans control both houses of Congress.

The White House said even if the bill had managed to pass the Senate, Obama would have vetoed it, since the measure "would make the broken immigration system worse, not better," according to a statement of administration policy released the day the House approved the bill.

"By attempting to restrict the Administration’s ability to conduct national security and criminal background checks on undocumented immigrants, H.R. 5759 would make the Nation’s communities less safe."

Since Yoho said the bill would be coming back, we wondered if the legislation would restrict the White House’s ability to conduct security and background checks.

Checking the background

H.R. 5759 keeps the executive branch from doing anything to exempt or defer any individual or groups from being subject to current immigration laws. "Any action by the executive branch with the purpose of circumventing the objectives of this statute shall be null and void and without legal effect," the bill says.

That’s a tall order: Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., recently said presidents going back to Dwight Eisenhower have issued executive actions on immigration, a claim we found Mostly True. Prior executive actions on immigration have provided asylum to specific groups, deferred removals from the United States and expanded the definitions of immigration laws to include more immigrants than originally covered. (H.R. 5759 would allow action that would save groups facing mortal danger, like refugees, or to keep criminal aliens or witnesses in the country at the request of law enforcement.)

The White House told PolitiFact Florida that Obama’s action requires about 4 million eligible undocumented immigrants to register and undergo checks by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. The checks would determine if someone is a threat to national security or public safety, has a criminal history or has perpetrated fraud, among other flags.

Homeland Security didn’t answer our questions about how the order would affect their current workload, but Boynton Beach immigration attorney Richard Hujber said it will lead to a crush of cases in an already backlogged system. The agency has to perform background checks for everything the government processes, he said, whether it’s for a work permit, a travel permit, a citizenship application or anything else.

Citizenship and Immigration Services posted about 1,000 job openings the day after Obama’s announcement. About 95 percent of Citizenship and Immigration Services budget comes from fees the immigrants pay.

Yoho’s office countered that Homeland Security would still have the power to perform background checks as usual.

"The congressman’s bill simply clarifies that the president does not have authority to exempt/defer deportation for categories of illegal aliens; because that would in effect be changing or rewriting law, which is a constitutional power of Congress, not the executive," Yoho spokesman Brian Kaveney told us in an email.

So it’s not that background checks wouldn’t be performed anymore; they couldn’t be performed as part of the executive action’s guidelines because the president’s deferment would no longer be allowed.

Mark Schlakman, a law professor and senior program director for Florida State University’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, was dubious about whether public safety would be any more endangered by not performing these checks. It’s hard to make that case when these immigrants weren’t previously going to submit to background checks anyway, he said.

"These people, for better or worse, no matter what side of the issue you come down on, they’re already here."

Our ruling

President Obama’s office said Yoho's HR 5759 attempts "to restrict the Administration's ability to conduct national security and criminal background checks on undocumented immigrants."

The bill would make illegal any move from the White House that reclassified large categories of immigrants counter to current immigration law. Obama’s action establishes reprieve from removal after undocumented immigrants passed a background check, which would likely strain an already backlogged system. It ostensibly follows current laws as guidelines. But because Obama's action defers the status of the immigrants, the process it proposes to set up would violate the terms of Yoho’s bill.

The Department of Homeland Security would continue to be able to perform checks as usual, so there’s little evidence public safety would be any more threatened than before.

We rate the statement Half True.

Our Sources

Executive Office of the President, "Statement of Administration Policy: H.R. 5759 – Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act of 2014," Dec. 4, 2014

U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho press release, "Stopping the President's Executive Amnesty," Nov. 20, 2014

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion with Respect to Individuals Who Came to the United States as Children and with Respect to Certain Individuals Who Are the Parents of U.S. Citizens or Permanent Residents," Nov. 20, 2014

PolitiFact Florida, "Kaine says all presidents since Eisenhower have taken executive action on immigration," Nov. 30, 2014

Washington Times, "Homeland Security already hiring 1,000 employees to carry out Obama amnesty," Dec. 3, 2014

U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho press release, "Yoho Immigration Bill To Prevent Executive Amnesty Passes House," Dec. 4, 2014

Politico, "House sends Obama message with immigration vote," Dec. 4, 2014, "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest," Dec. 4, 2014, "House Republicans Vote to Make Immigration System Worse, Not Better," Dec. 5, 2014

Washington Post Federal Eye blog, "Why Congress can’t stop a federal hiring blitz tied to Obama’s immigration actions," Dec. 8, 2014, "HR 5979 text," accessed Dec. 9, 2014

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "Fixing Our Broken Immigration System Through Executive Action - Key Facts," accessed Dec. 10, 2014

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, "Executive Actions on Immigration," accessed Dec. 10, 2014

Interview with Brian Kaveney, U.S. Rep Ted Yoho spokesperson, Dec. 9 and 15, 2014

Interview with Emily Kane, White House spokesperson, Dec. 9, 2014

Interview with Mark Schlakman, Florida State University law professor and Center for the Advancement of Human Rights senior program director, Dec. 10, 2014

Interview with Richard Hujber, immigration attorney, Dec. 15, 2014


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