U.S. Rep. Steve Russell said Thursday he opposes efforts to end protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
He made his comments two days after President Donald Trump placed the program on a six-month lifeline.
“I personally cannot see a construct where we would or should want to deport these individuals,” Russell said of DACA beneficiaries, who came to the United States as children when their parents entered the country illegally.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the program would be rescinded in six months, forcing Congress to act between now and March if it wants to preserve DACA protections created through executive order by former President Barack Obama in 2012.
Russell, R-Oklahoma City, said Trump was right to rescind the executive order and return immigration policy to the halls of Congress. Now, he said, Congress has a clear deadline by which it must act.
“I think we must address a way to provide a permanent residency status which would then place the prospects of earning citizenship upon the individual,” he said.
“They had no choice on being here when they came here as children through the actions of others. A residency would give them a way to abide by our laws and then whether or not they would eventually become citizens would be on their own merits,” Russell added.
The sophomore congressman, who is a hard-line conservative on fiscal matters, has taken moderate positions on immigration since joining Congress two years ago. He has opposed restrictions on refugee resettlement and a proposed Republican bill, the RAISE Act, that would restrict legal immigration.
“The plaque on the Statue of Liberty does not say bring me your lawyers, doctors, and scientists,” Russell told Spanish-language station Telemundo last week. “Rather, it says bring me your tired and hungry. We have had several people who have come with nothing to the United States and they have improved our country.”
Russell is running for re-election in 2018 against Democratic challengers who have stated their support for DACA in recent weeks. Tom Guild said ending DACA would be “heartless and cruel.” Kendra Horn agreed, saying, “This is not a partisan issue, but a human issue.”
In 2010, before Russell’s tenure in Congress, legislation similar to DACA passed the House but fell a vote shy in the Senate. No one from Oklahoma voted in favor of it. U.S. Reps. John Sullivan, Dan Boren, Frank Lucas and Tom Cole voted against it. Then-U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, who held the seat Russell now occupies, was absent for the vote.
Cole, R-Moore, also issued a statement Thursday, calling Obama’s DACA executive order unconstitutional and complimenting Trump’s decision to end it.
“Major immigration policy changes must be done through congressional action, and President Trump has given Congress ample time to craft a new policy regarding DACA recipients,” Cole said.
As for what Congress should do, Cole was not clear.
“It is important that we show compassion towards children and young adults who were brought to our country through no fault of their own,” he said. “In the coming months, I am hopeful that Congress will reach a consensus on this knotty issue.
“If Congress can reach a compromise on this difficult issue, President Trump will achieve something that eluded both President Bush and President Obama — a significant immigration reform enacted by Congress and signed by the President,” Cole said.
report by Justin Wingerter