Bipartisan senators move to protect young immigrants from deportation

FILE - Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has been pushing immigration reform for years.
FILE - Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has been pushing immigration reform for years. AP

A group of Republican and Democratic senators joined forces Friday in a preemptive move against President-elect Donald Trump following through on campaign pledges to target illegal immigrants.

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, along with Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Dick Durban of Illinois, introduced legislation to protect young people from deportation.

“It’s my firm belief that most Americans want to fix a broken immigration system in a humane system,” said Graham, who has tried for years to pass comprehensive immigration reforms.

Feinstein said 350,000 children of undocumented workers live in California, making up almost half of all such offspring in the country.

“Giving these young people an opportunity to go to college, pursue careers and give back to their communities has been tremendously beneficial to my state,” she said. “We have a moral obligation to do all we can to shield them from deportation and keep their families together.”

Durbin, who will be the Senate Democratic leader in the 115th Congress starting Jan. 20, said the children of people who entered the United States illegally shouldn’t be punished for their parents’ actions.

“These kids are Americans at heart and deserve to remain in the only country they call home,” he said.

Despite deporting a record number of people – 2.5 million during his first seven years in office – Obama has tried to shield young people and to keep families together.

With immigration legislation stymied in Congress, Obama in 2012 issued a policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. It directed law enforcement agencies not to deport people who’d entered the United States before age 16 and prior to June 2007.

In making immigration a primary focus of his campaign, Trump pledged to terminate that policy, calling it “one of the most unconstitutional actions ever undertaken by a president.”

In light of the failure of past immigration bills, the new measure is unlikely to pass Congress. That’s especially true because the current session ends next month and includes a number of lame-duck members who won’t return to office because they were defeated in November or chose not to seek re-election.

Yet the legislation is an important symbolic marker, signaling to Trump that even lawmakers from his own party may resist his efforts to steamroll them through executive action.

“This legislation should send a strong message to the president-elect that he should be working to protect and integrate hardworking immigrants in our community, not exclude and deport them,” said Tom Jawetz, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank.

Graham criticized Obama for taking executive action to protect illegal immigrants’ children and said Trump would be right to reverse it.

“However, I do not believe we should pull the rug out and push these young men and women, who came out of the shadows and registered with the federal government, back into the darkness,” Graham said.

“Our legislation continues to provide legal status to them for three years as Congress seeks a permanent solution,” he said.

Under Obama’s executive order, young people had to file paperwork with Washington to obtain protection against deportation. Some immigration advocates fear that Trump will use that database to target them after he takes office.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigration group in Washington, said the bipartisan bill is a good short-term bridge to more wide-ranging change.

“It is not the broad reform that the country needs and that the American people support, but it would at least avert the disruption and heartbreak that would accompany a revocation of DACA,” he said.