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On the border with Obama's immigration foes

By Chris Moody, CNN
updated 1:09 PM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Michele Bachmann and Steve King traveled to the border together
  • They were there a day after Obama's immigration announcement
  • King: "We do not have a moral obligation to bring people out of the shadows"

Roma, Texas (CNN) -- Michele Bachmann leapt out of a black SUV near a high cliff overlooking the Rio Grande, dashed to the edge of a boulder and scanned the river that divides her country from another.

It was a quiet Friday afternoon in this border town where immigrants routinely sneak across the river in inflatable rafts, climb a ravine and seek shelter in a local church. But at this moment, there was little more to see on the Mexican side than some fishermen casting rods and a few horses snacking near the river.

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"Today it's dead," said Bachmann, a Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, sounding disappointed.

She blamed the stillness on the presence of a hand-held CNN camera.

"I think it's quiet because the cameras are here. Because more than anything, the criminal cartel worries about and fears the wrath of the American people," Bachmann said. "They're crooks, they're villains, but they're businessmen. And that's why they fear the CNN cameras."

She was joined by her friend, Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, on a boulder above the river. The duo represent a coalition of House lawmakers who are staunchly opposed to any legislative action on immigration that would offer lawful status to immigrants living in the United States illegally. While they don't hold much official sway in Washington—neither chair a congressional committee and Bachmann plans to exit Congress in January—they do play an outsized role in amplifying conservative messaging.

They are prolific fundraisers and enjoy widespread support among the GOP's tea party base. Bachmann raised her profile in 2011 when she launched a brief presidential bid. As a veteran congressman from Iowa, the state that holds the first electoral contest of the presidential calendar, King also has the ear of the nation's top Republicans. And both are known to make inflammatory statements, a practice that gives them a platform in both conservative and liberal media.

They arrived in Texas a day after President Barack Obama announced a controversial plan to invite certain immigrants living in the United States illegally to "come out of the shadows" with an offer for temporary legal status to some who pass background checks and pay back taxes. The President said he was acting in the absence of congressional action since the Republican-led House had failed to take a vote on a bipartisan immigration reform bill the Democrat-controlled Senate passed in 2013.

READ: Obama: 'You can come out of the shadows'

The announcement outraged Republicans, who argue that he's overstepping the bounds of his office. House Speaker John Boehner labeled him "Emperor Obama" and one rank-and-file Republican, Rep. Mo Brooks, suggested the President could face impeachment and even prison time for his decision.

Not to be outdone, Bachmann and King, representatives of districts that both lie more than 1,000 miles to Roma's north, wanted to be some of the first lawmakers on the border to respond.

The spot they chose to visit, a Rio Grande overlook near a bridge that connects these two countries, is one they know well. The duo visited this exact place in July, when they took cell phone video of what they said showed a pregnant woman crossing the river.

That little baby is an American citizen.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa

"It just occurred to me," King said on his second trip here, "the pregnant mother who was put off on the side here, she surely had the baby. That little baby is an American citizen. Last night Barack Obama gave that little baby's mother amnesty. She now has amnesty. Lawless, unconstitutional amnesty."

King's claim about the woman isn't accurate: To receive legal status under Obama's new plan, immigrants must have lived in the United States for a minimum of five years. The woman in his story, which occurred over the summer, would not qualify.

In response to Obama's action, Bachmann and King want Congress to pass a resolution of disapproval, followed by a vote to censure him. Then they want to send an appropriations bill to the White House that excludes money necessary to carry out his plan, a strategy that Republican House and Senate leaders support.

King didn't rule out impeachment down the line.

"Let's hope that we never have to answer that question," he told CNN. "Let's hope that we can do the most reasonable things that we can do first."

WATCH: CNN'S tense encounter at the border.

As for a solution to the nation's illegal immigration problem, King has proposed a three-tiered fence system that could span the length of the 2,000-mile border. After surveying the border, King opened the hatch of his SUV and pulled out a worn piece of paper that revealed a mock-up of a concrete fence system he designed in his free time.

"I constructed that fence on the floor of the House," he said. "It's kicking around on YouTube."

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King's not joking. In 2006, he constructed a scale model of the fence he designed live on C-SPAN, complete with miniature barbed wire and cardboard to represent the dirt.

When asked about critics who argue a border-length fence would be costly and nearly impossible to build in entirety, King compared it to the Great Wall of China, a project intended to keep out invading armies that cost the lives of thousands of Chinese workers to build.

"There were plenty of Chinese left over," King said.

READ: The legal battle over Obama's immigration plan

The fence idea, however, would potentially only solve part of the problem. Even if the border were completely secured, an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants would still would remain in the United States. For Republicans who routinely rail against offering so-called "amnesty" to these people, they have little to say about what to do with them.

Even King, who has built his career on railing against immigration, initially skirted the question. Finally, after multiple attempts for clarity, he conceded that he didn't feel it was the government's responsibility to address them.

"We do not have a moral obligation to bring people out of the shadows," King said. "They came here to live in the shadows, that's their choice. So this idea that we've identified people that are living in the shadows and say 'We're going to come find you and bring you out of the shadows -- we're not called to do that."

With dusk approaching and no crossings to be found, King and Bachmann loaded back into their SUV and drove east toward McAllen, where they met with border control agents at a Homeland Security outpost.

After the long day, they congressional day-trippers capped their adventure at a local Mexican restaurant over plates of enchiladas and a round of margaritas.

On the rocks and with salt, of course.

READ: A behind-the-scenes look at the GOP's trip to the border

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