Sen. Kamala Harris said in Las Vegas Friday that as president she would push for comprehensive immigration reform but “until Congress gets its act together” she vowed to take immediate steps to lift obstacles preventing Dreamers from getting legal status, including executive actions.
The Democratic presidential candidate outlined her immigration plan, released earlier this week, at a forum at UNLV.
Her plan includes the renewal and expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which started under the Obama administration. Federal courts have blocked President Donald Trump’s plan to phase out the program.
The California senator also proposed allowing undocumented parents, siblings, and spouses of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents to apply for deportation relief, as well as “standing protection from deportation for those who have served in our military” and those with Temporary Protected Status.
Her plan also calls for executive actions to remove technical barriers that prevent many Dreamers from receiving legal status by applying for a green card.
“I am prepared to remove the barriers that exist for Dreamers to receive citizenship,” Harris said. “Those are artificial barriers which should not be in the way of someone who has otherwise lived a very lawful and productive right.”
Harris criticized the Trump administration for “vilifying immigrants” adding that his policies were “born from a spirit of dividing people.” She called Trump’s plan to build a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border a “vanity project” that would cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
“That wall will never be built,” Harris said. “This is a distraction I believe, from a president who has otherwise done nothing for working people.”
The roundtable was moderated by Michael Kagan, director of the UNLV Immigration Clinic, who took questions for Harris from the audience.
One audience member criticized Harris’s for supporting “a policy that reported undocumented children to ICE” as a San Francisco District Attorney, and asked what Harris would do as president to protect children from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Harris said the policy she followed as a D.A. was adopted by the mayor of San Francisco at the time to protect the city from losing funding under during the George W. Bush Administration.
“I do not support any policy that is about criminalizing children and in particular undocumented children,” Harris said, adding that her plan includes expanding the DACA program to extend protections to more children and parents.
Citing her experience as a prosecutor, Harris said treating undocumented immigrants as criminals often leads to crimes going unreported.
“One of the greatest tools of a predator against an undocumented immigrant is to convince that person who is a victim that if you report it, it is you who will be treated like a criminal,” Harris said.
When asked when she would put her plan into action should she become president Harris answered: “Immediately. First day.”
In her immigration plan, Harris identifies four specific executive actions she would take upon being elected:
- Create a “Dreamers Parole-in-Place Program” to formally admit Dreamers to the U.S.;
- Clarify that being brought to the U.S. as a child classifies Dreamers as eligible to apply for legal status;
- Direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to retroactively grant work authorization to Dreamers;
- Clarify that separation from a close family member is presumed to be “extreme hardship” when individuals apply for a Green Card from abroad.
The immigration forum was one of several campaign stops Harris included during her campaign swing in Nevada. Later in the day she spoke at a rally to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.