Two dozen sheriffs from across the nation gathered in Washington on Wednesday "to lay down the gauntlet to say that we will not accept President Obama's executive action" giving amnesty to what Sheriff Paul Babeu believes could be as many as 20 million illegal aliens.
"The president must be stopped in this mass executive wave of law, which he doesn't have authority for," said Babeu, who heads the Pinal County Sheriff's Department in Arizona, about 70 miles north of the U.S. border with Mexico.
"The border remains unsecured. And what we, the elected sheriffs of America, are demanding is that for once, put America and our citizens and our safety and our security first," he told Newsmax. "Do not put illegal immigrants before American citizens. And that's what has happened."
While the White House has said that Obama's executive orders would affect an estimated 6 million illegals, Babeu told Newsmax on Wednesday he believes the actual number could be closer to 20 million. He cited new deportation guidelines
issued last month under Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson that take effect Jan. 5.
Johnson's directive supersedes DHS policies on immigration enforcement dating back as far as 2009. It was issued on Nov. 20 — the day Obama announced his unilateral amnesty actions in a prime-time national speech on cable television.
"Jeh Johnson issued this directive order to all of the 23 agencies under his authority, saying that the real date is January 2015. So essentially, that encompasses all illegals" in the United States as of that date, Babeu said.
He said the number of illegals in the country is realistically closer to 20 million than the working number of 11 million.
The new DHS directives give immigration officials under Johnson's department "prosecutorial discretion," along with the ability to make "discretionary enforcement decisions" in deciding "whom to stop, question, and arrest; whom to detain or release; whether to settle, dismiss, appeal, or join in a motion on a case; and whether to grant deferred action, parole, or stay of removal instead of pursuing removal in a case."
Because of the agency's "limited resources," Johnson's memo also prioritizes criminal illegals for deportation, with the greatest priority given to those who threaten national security or who have been convicted of being in a street gang or related offenses.
Those convicted of such "significant misdemeanors" as domestic violence, selling or trafficking drugs, and possession of illegal firearms are farther down the list, according to the document.
"This is being done through a complete overhaul, change of directives, through Jeh Johnson, the very day Obama gave the speech to the nation saying that anybody who has been here for five years or more — trying to appear reasonable — that no action will be taken," Babeu said.
Babeu, a board member of the National Sheriff's Association, was among 24 members who met at a Capitol news conference to rail against Obama's executive actions announced last month.
The sheriffs were joined by several congressional Republicans, who vowed to use every possible means to circumvent the orders, including through the budget process.
"I have a message today to every leader in Congress, to every official in the White House, and to President Obama: We are going to fight this illegal amnesty and we are not going to stop," charged Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who spearheaded the event. "We are going to carry out the mission the voters sent us here to do.
"We are not going to give in," he said. "We are not going to yield. We are going to stand strong for the American people."
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Other Republicans present were Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, along with Reps. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Lamar Smith of Texas. The sheriffs represented departments from such states as Kansas, Georgia, Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
"The way things stand right now, every state is a border state and every town is a border town," Blackburn told Newsmax later Wednesday.
She sponsored legislation passed by the House in August to freeze Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that he created in 2012 for illegals who were brought to the U.S. as children.
"If the federal government's not going to do their job, of course they're going to come here and say: 'Get your act together, federal government. We have to protect our states, and you're not doing your job,'" she said.
In the executive orders Obama signed last month,
illegals who are parents of U.S. citizens and residents already with green cards were spared from deportation for three years. They must register with the federal government, pass a background check, and pay taxes.
They would receive work permits and Social Security numbers, though none of the illegals would be eligible for citizenship or green cards. They would, however, be guaranteed by the government that — unless they committed a serious crime — they would not be deported.
The orders also allowed Obama to expand the DACA program.
Republicans have slammed the president's unilateral actions, and the $1.1 trillion omnibus budget bill the House is expected to vote on Thursday will finance the Department of Homeland Security only through February. The rest of the government would be funded through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2015. Without the additional money, the government could shut down as early as Friday.
DHS enforces immigration laws. The House last week voted against Obama's executive orders.
Babeu said the House plan to temporarily finance Homeland Security was "not ideal."
"I get the fact that the Republicans, for political reasons, don't want to shut down the government, but the president is the one who forced this action.
"So now, the Republicans in the House, with an expanded majority, and the new Republican Senate, they'll be best-positioned in the new year to completely stop this president," Babeu said. "They should defund Obama's ability to grant this executive gutting of law."
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