Published Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 | 7:40 p.m.
Updated Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 | 7:58 p.m.
Facing a contested re-election bid that is increasingly being framed around immigration, Rep. Joe Heck voted against a Republican bid to require the president to deport immigrants brought into the country illegally.
Heck was one of 11 House Republicans, including Rep. Mark Amodei of Northern Nevada, to defy their party in a much-politicized 216-192 vote to end President Barack Obama’s program that defers deportations of some of those immigrants, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
There was confusion among House Republicans and Democrats about whether the law would allow immigrants whose deportations were waived to stay in the program.
“While I do not agree with the president going around Congress to implement DACA, I cannot in good conscience vote to close the door on those individuals who have been given the opportunity to make a life for themselves in the only country they have ever known,” Heck said in a statement.
The vote won’t see the light of the day in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Instead, it allowed Republican leaders to garner enough support from their ultra-conservative members to pass emergency funds aimed at stemming the crisis of migrants on the border.
But while the vote helped conservative Republicans, it put moderates like Heck, a two-term incumbent representing Henderson and Boulder City, in an interesting spot.
Heck has publicly supported a path to citizenship for immigrants brought to the country unlawfully as children. He even drafted a bill to do so.
But he’s criticized the president’s role in using executive action to enact immigration policy and even voted to end the program in June 2013.
“I believe that the best way to do this is through the legislative process to be decided by the elected representatives of the American people, not through administrative actions that circumvent Congress,” he said at the time. “My vote was reflective of that belief.”
Heck used the same rationale in voting Wednesday to authorize Congress to sue Obama for his executive actions.
Democrats have accused Heck of flip-flopping on immigration. None other than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, criticized his positions.
“How he can in good conscience face this Hispanic community, I don’t understand,” Reid told the Sun in December.
Heck is facing a challenge to his seat from Democrat Erin Bilbray, who has tried to tie him to House Republican leaders who haven’t brought immigration reform to a vote.
Heck claims his voting record on immigration reform rebuts those attacks.
“I’m getting a lot of blame for immigration reform not passing, and maybe I’m biased on this, but quite honestly, I don’t think I deserve the blame,” Heck said. “Because I’ve been working very hard and very publicly on this issue.”
Nevada’s Republicans in Congress have been vocal supporters of broader immigration reform.
Amodei, who has urged Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, to bring immigration reform to a vote, voted against the bill.
Amodei said the language in the bill was too ambiguous to receive his vote, though he opposes the president's executive order.
But his no vote comes as a surprise because, in an interview with the Sun on Thursday, he said he would vote for the bill to end the president's program. He said he felt a law authorized by Congress and not the president would allow for more security among Dreamers, the term for young people brought as children who attended college or joined the military.
“I’m saying listen, you deserve predictability and stability, and the rules need to be changed, and you need to be able to rely on that,” he said.