California Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) said that he supports legislation that would offer a pathway to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA recipients. He announced his support following President Trump’s announcement that he was cancelling the Obama-era executive order that gave work permits and deportation protection to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children.
“I think it's important that we make this a movement beyond California,” Denham said, calling for bipartisan unity in order to achieve immigration reform. “It needs to be all 50 states coming together.”
In an interview with KQED Newsroom, Denham called for broad immigration reform, including a guest worker program and improvements to the visa system. But he said the most urgent issue was protecting so-called "Dreamers," whose undocumented status is not their fault, but the responsibility of their parents who made the decision to come to the country illegally.
“We've never held kids accountable for laws that have been broken by their parents,” he insisted. “I believe that we've got to get this done. We've got to get it done now.”
Denham added that he was confident that legislators could approve the reforms quickly, even as soon as the next several days.
Denham, an Air Force veteran, is the author of the ENLIST Bill, which would offer a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers who volunteer for the U.S. military. His proposed legislation, which he claims has wide bipartisan support in the House, is one of a handful of immigration reform bills being considered in the House or Senate.
He told KQED that if the Republican-controlled Congress fails to pass some type of reform, the party could face consequences in the upcoming midterm elections.
“I think that there will be a backlash against Republicans if we don't get our job done,” he predicted.
A former member of the California state Legislature, Denham hasn’t always shown support for undocumented childhood arrivals. While serving as a state senator, he voted against a bill that would have made undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children eligible for scholarships to state colleges.
He defended his voting record, saying that responsibility for immigration reform lies at the federal level -- now that he’s a member of the national government, he considers immigration reform an obligation.
“While it’s a big, important issue in my district [and] it’s a big issue for California, this is a national issue that all states should be involved in,” he explained.