WASHINGTON (CN) - Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and two of his predecessors delivered a message to Congress on Wednesday: Freedom isn't free. Funding for the agency will run out at midnight Friday unless Congress acts.
While a last-minute continuing resolution passed by Congress could have temporarily funded DHS, Johnson, alongside former DHS Secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, cautioned members of Congress about cutting off funding for the agency created after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"In these challenging times, it is critical that the Department of Homeland Security receive a full-year appropriation," Johnson said. "There are concrete, dramatic consequences for the homeland security of this nation if we allow the funding of this department to lapse."
A few hours later, the Senate was reported to have cut a deal to restore funding to DHS, though Speaker of the House John Boehner gave no guarantees that the bill would see a vote in the House.
Republican House members want to defund DHS unless President Barack Obama rescinds his executive actions that would protect qualifying immigrants from deportation.
Ridge, who said during the Wednesday news conference that he disagrees with Obama's immigration policy, said that retaliation should be wielded upon the thousands of Homeland Security employees who need to make ends meet.
"I personally believe, as a former member of the Congress of the United States, that the president has gravely overstepped his constitutional authority," Ridge said.
But while Republicans "have every right" to oppose the president, he said, defunding DHS is not the way to do it.
"I don't think we right that wrong on the backs of the patriots who go to work every day to provide safety and security for the Department of Homeland Security," Ridge said.
Chertoff, who accused Republicans of holding DHS "as a hostage" against the president, said a funding cutoff would furlough 15 percent of the agency's 240,000 employees, in administrative, management and acquisition, and suspend state grants and disaster preparedness, which would Northeastern states struggling with historic snowfall amounts.
"At this particular moment, given what is going on in the world and even in this country in terms of the security challenges we face," Chertoff said, "we cannot afford to be distracting the men and women on the frontlines of our homeland security with concerns about whether they will get the administrative support they need, the equipment they need and even their salaries and paychecks."
The only former DHS secretary who did not attend was Janet Napolitano, who released a statement citing the importance of the agency and its employees.
"While many in Congress may disagree with the (Obama) administration on how to reform our broken immigration system, we all recognize and agree that the mission of DHS is too important to compromise," Napolitano said. "Given recent world events and the continuing evolution of the adversary we face, our efforts to protect the country cannot be put at risk."
"(Obama's executive action), as it turns out, is likely to be dealt with by the courts," he said.
The administration is appealing to the 5th Circuit a Texas federal judge's injunction against Obama's executive actions, which the judge granted at the request of Texas and 25 other Republican-controlled states.
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