Vice-president Kamala Harris urged Congress to pass immigration reform, as she met with a group of “dreamers” – young immigrants who were brought to the United States as children but whose future remains uncertain.
Ms Harris hosted the group at the White House following a ruling by a federal court in Texas last week that has thrown the DACA programme – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – into fresh uncertainty.
Former president Barack Obama introduced DACA to offer legal protection to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children. But his successor Donald Trump ended the programme, triggering a lengthy legal battle.
Last week, a federal judge in Texas ruled that DACA is unlawful and blocked the Biden administration from approving new applications.
Ms Harris said on Thursday the Biden administration would fight the ruling, noting the department of justice would appeal the judgment and the department of homeland security was implementing new rules around the programme.
“I want to make clear to the dreamers that are here, and to those who are watching from home, this is your home, this is your home, and we see you and you are not alone,” she added.
“The president and I . . . are unequivocal that we recognise you for the Americans that you are, and that we recognise that you deserve all the rights that come with American citizenship.”
Contribution to society
As she opened the meeting, she highlighted the contribution young immigrants had made to American society.
“If anyone wants to know who are our dreamers, let me tell you who they are. They include members of our military, they are college students, they are people who work in Fortune 500, Fortune 50 companies, they are at 200,000 at least frontline workers who saved the lives and protected the lives of people they didn’t know. That’s who are our dreamers.
“Many arrived in their home country, the United States, before they could walk or talk. Many have been living recently, these years, a life of uncertainty even though this is the only country they have ever known. They deserve a pathway to citizenship.”
Ms Harris was outspoken on the DACA issue when she was a senator, famously confronting Mr Trump’s first director of homeland security, John Kelly, on his administration’s immigration record during a committee hearing in 2017. However, she was criticised by some members of her own party for telling Guatemalans not to travel to America when she visited the country last month.
Among those attending the meeting at the White House was Diana Bautista, an 18 year old from Los Angeles who spoke about the contribution her family had made to American life and society. She described how Mr Trump ended the DACA programme a month before her 15th birthday which made her ineligible to apply.
Ms Harris’s call for Congress to act comes as the DACA issue gains new urgency following last week’s federal ruling. While immigration remains a controversial issue in the US, polls show broad support for the DACA programme among both Republican and Democrat voters.
As the White House continues to work with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on securing agreement on a bipartisan infrastructure Bill as well as a further multitrillion spending package that will be passed later this year, an idea has gained traction on the Hill to include immigration measures in the second package.
Any measure to legislate for a citizenship pathway for dreamers would bring a measure of certainty to DACA recipients and applicants. Ms Harris said “the status quo of people living with uncertainty from one case to another is simply wrong”. “We need Congress to finally create a pathway towards citizenship. We will not give up.”