Senate Democratic leaders wrote a letter on Monday pledging strong support for President Barack Obama using his executive authority to temporarily shield some groups of undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation.
The move sharpens the battle lines between Democrats and Republicans, who are debating whether to use a government funding bill to block Obama’s moves, at the risk of a government shutdown.
“Because House Republicans have not acted, we fully support your decision to use your well-established executive authority to improve as much of the immigration system as you can,” the Democrats wrote to Obama.
The letter is signed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (IL) and Sens. Chuck Schumer (NY), Bob Menendez (NJ), Michael Bennet (CO) and Patty Murray (WA). Schumer, Durbin, Menendez and Bennet are the Democratic members of the “gang of 8” which co-wrote the Senate-passed immigration bill; Murray is No. 4 in party leadership.
The Democrats stressed that the executive power Obama plans to use — called “deferred action” and authorized under a 1986 immigration law — has been used by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush to protect broad groups of undocumented immigrants from deportation. They wrote:
Some Republicans are claiming that you do not have the authority to act, but we know that you, like previous presidents, have broad executive authority to shape the enforcement and implementation of immigration laws. This authority includes exercising prosecutorial discretion to refine deportation priorities, deferring deportations on a case-by-case basis, and streamlining the legal immigration system. In fact, every President since Eisenhower has used his executive authority to make our immigration system function more effectively. Perhaps the action most similar to what is needed today is the “Family Fairness” policy implemented by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, which deferred the deportation of 1.5 million spouses and children of individuals who were legalized under the Immigration Reform and Control Act, representing 40 percent of the then undocumented population.
Obama’s plan is set to be announced in the coming weeks. The New York Times reports that it could shield as many as 5 million immigrants from deportation by expanding his 2012 DACA program and by granting protections to undocumented parents and children of Americans and legal residents. The move would let beneficiaries temporarily live and work in the country.
“We hope that your upcoming actions will expand on this program to include individuals with strong ties to the United States and who have not committed serious crimes, including the parents of these DREAMers, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, and workers who play a vital role in our economy and heritage,” the Senate Democrats wrote.