Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday backed efforts to give pathways to citizenship for some illegal immigrants on the 9th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – as Republicans hammered her response to the crisis at the southern border.
Harris met with recipients of DACA – a 2012 Obama-era order which granted protection from deportation for illegal immigrants who came to the country as children. The administration and a number of Democrats have sought to enshrine the order in law, and to extend it to hundreds of thousands more who would now be eligible.
"I will tell you, we are here on this day, on the anniversary of DACA, and I'm here on behalf of the Biden-Harris administration to tell you this administration fully intends to do everything in our power to protect our dreamers," she said, using an activist-preferred term to describe DACA-recipients. " There will be no question about that."
Harris went on to call for the Senate to pass bills that would give a path to citizenship to those eligible for DACA at the start of 2021, as well as to illegal immigrant farmworkers and those protected by Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
"Even with DACA in place, we know that dreamers live in a constant state of fear about their status and about their future. And it is critically important that we provide a pathway to citizenship to give people a sense of certainty and a sense of security," she said.
"The House of Representatives, of course, has passed the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act," she said. "We are calling on the Senate to do the same."
Harris spoke hours after the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the American Dream and Promise Act – which would grant legal status to illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors before January 1, 2021, passed a background check and either completed or enrolled in an education program.
While Democrats used the hearing to push for certainty for immigrants in the country, and argued that their legal status would be both humane and boost the economy, Republicans accused the Democrats of pushing amnesty at a time when the border was in crisis -- and warned that such efforts would only fuel the migrant surge.
"The amnesty proposal in this bill would ensure that this unprecedented crisis at the southern border continues indefinitely, in perpetuity perhaps," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said. "What we should be discussing today is what can we done and what should be done to stop the border crisis we now face, to stop the abuse of women and children who embark across this perilous journey and stop the smugglers and cartels from earning record high profits from exploiting the crisis."
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said that approach of Democrats and the White House to the crisis could be described as "they don't want to know."
"Joe Biden and Kamala Harris caused this crisis, and congressional Democrats are perpetuating this crisis by hiding from it and keeping the policies that aren’t working," he said.
Republicans made references to Harris' recent trip to Mexico and Guatemala, where she told migrants not to come to the U.S., and said she was focused on the "root causes" of the border crisis like poverty and violence in Central America.
"I could have saved the taxpayer the travel expenses," Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said. "The root causes are right up the street at 1600 Pennsylvania."
"It's Joe Biden and Kamala Harris running on an open borders campaign, that message being heard across the world and hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens showing up at our border, not just Mexico and Guatemala but literally all across the world to include Europe and Africa and Asia because they know our borders are open."
Democrats pushed back against the Republican criticism, choosing instead to point to the plight of those who they said had been left in limbo since Obama signed the DACA order and called on Congress to act.
"The challenges we face at the border are no excuse for inaction," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said. "We are not going to ignore that reality, but this a reality as well."