WASHINGTON -- As Republicans threaten to do whatever they can to block President Barack Obama from reforming the immigration system without Congress, leading Senate Democrats promised on Monday to “stand behind [Obama] to support changes to keep families together."
"Immigrant communities have waited too long for House Republicans to catch up with the American public’s support for comprehensive immigration reform," reads the letter to the president, first reported by Politico. "We strongly support your plan to improve as much of the immigration system as you can within your legal authority, and will stand behind you to support changes to keep families together while continuing to enforce our immigration laws in a way that protects our national security and public safety."
The letter was signed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), all of whom hold top posts in the Democratic caucus.
Obama could announce plans for executive action on immigration as soon as this week. According to preliminary reports, the president is likely to allow millions of undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. and to receive temporary work authorizations. The plan could also make changes to the controversial Secure Communities enforcement program, allow immigrants with high-tech skills and their spouses to gain citizenship, and send more funding to police the southern border.
The Senate Democrats' letter specifically addresses some of these issues. It asks Obama to make enforcement "more effective, humane, and non-discriminatory" by, among other measures, "refining" the Secure Communities program. The letter also endorses plans to allow employers to sponsor "more talented immigrants" to become U.S. citizens.
In addition, the senators ask Obama to expand "deferred action," which would allow undocumented immigrants with longstanding ties to the U.S. to stay in the country. These should include, the letter said, parents of U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and Dreamers, who came to the country as children and have already received relief through Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.
The Democrats wrote that Obama has the authority to take such actions, citing executive action on immigration implemented under Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
House Democrats sent a similar letter to the president last week, with 116 representatives signing on to demand "bold and meaningful executive action."
"We will stand with you as you take bold and meaningful action, consistent with existing law and historical precedent, to protect American families, strengthen local communities and grow the economy," the House Democrats' letter reads.
Republicans in the House and Senate have said they will aim to block Obama's executive actions on immigration, potentially at the risk of a government shutdown.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) gave no details last week on how Republicans will proceed, but said "all of the options are on the table."
"We're going to fight the president tooth and nail if he continues down this path," Boehner said. "This is the wrong way to govern."