Sen. Jon Kyl said Monday that President Obama was essentially “doing the right thing” by halting deportation of teens and young adults brought to this country illegally as children — “but doing it the wrong way.”
“In terms of the policy itself, it has a basis in the way that we should probably deal with people who came here under the circumstances that those young people did,” the Arizona Republican told Fox News. And Kyl pointed out that he is working with other senators on something that might actually do the same thing — but doing it legally.
The senator’s comments put him at odds with some members of his own party who have taken a much harsher stance on dealing with those who are here only because their parents made the decision years ago to cross the border illegally or remain after their visas expired. That includes Gov. Jan Brewer who last week panned the entire idea of allowing anyone not here legally to stay — at least not until the border is secure.
But Kyl’s position is probably closer to that of presumptive GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney — or at least, to the one he espoused on Friday in the wake of Obama’s announcement — which is that the issue of all these young people needs to be addressed, albeit in a more permanent fashion. It also comes as the Republican Party is looking ahead toward November and denying Obama some Hispanic support that could prove crucial to the outcome.
The presidential directive said immigration officials should exercise “prosecutorial discretion” and not pursue those who were brought to the country before age 16, have been here at least five years, have not yet turned 30 and be in or have graduated from high school. These deferred prosecutions are good for two years, on a renewable basis, and those who seek that status are eligible for permits to work in this country legally.
Kyl said while the goal is correct, “you have to follow the law.”
“He is supposed to uphold the law,” the senator said. “The laws say that you’re supposed to deport people who are here illegally. They decided unilaterally not to enforce that law.”
But Kyl said he sees something positive coming out of the president’s announcement: the chance for him and two other GOP senators to push their own alternative, one less comprehensive than the DREAM Act that Republicans have blocked in the past.
“(It) provides essentially what the president does with the additional very important protection,” he said. “Instead of just deferring deportation, it would actually give these people a legal status.”
Kyl said the plan, which has yet to be reduced to paper, would allow those in the same general group as the president’s order to remain in this country. But he said that it is not “amnesty,” a label he and other Republicans have placed on the DREAM Act because that would provide those eligible with an eventual path to citizenship.
This plan, being pushed with Marco Rubio of Florida and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, would bar anyone who gets to stay legally from actually seeking citizenship for 10 years.
“You would have a legal status in the country, you couldn’t be sent anywhere else,” Kyl said.
“You could be a productive member of our society,” he continued. “And after 10 years, depending upon your circumstance, if the law then allowed it, you could seek citizenship.”
The chances of getting that plan through the Senate, however, remain in doubt as Democrats still control that chamber. And Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday he intends to push for adoption of the full DREAM Act.
That same fate is likely to befall separate proposals by Arizona Republican Reps. Ben Quayle and David Schweikert — who happen to be running against each other this year for a redrawn congressional district — to have Congress overrule the president’s directive, given Democratic control of the Senate.