Sens. Lugar, Durbin Ask Napolitano to Stop Deporting Students

Apr 23, 2010 12:50pm

ABC News’ Devin Dwyer reports:  With prospects of immigration reform this year continuing to fade, a bipartisan duo of Senators has asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to halt deportation of some undocumented immigrants who first arrived in this country illegally as children.

Illinois Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin and Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, who made the request in a letter to Napolitano Wednesday, are pushing a bill that would grant legal status to students who came to the U.S. before the age of 15, have no criminal records, and completed schooling or military service. It would not extend protection to illegal immigrant parents.

“The DREAM Act is narrowly tailored to assist only a select group of young people, many of whom came here with their parents at an age when they were too young to understand the consequences of their actions,” the senators wrote. Their situation “is just such a complicated issue which requires the common-sense, practical solution of deferred action.”

The senators argue deportation of DREAM Act-eligible students is already not a priority of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and that making deferred action official policy would “conserve limited enforcement resources.”

Napolitano has testified in support of the DREAM Act and said she envisions an immigration enforcement policy that relies heavily on “common-sense, practical solutions.” The Department of Homeland Security could not be immediately reached for comment on the senators’ letter.

Aides to Sen. Durbin say they have not yet received a response from the Secretary but concede that replies can take several days.

Earlier this year when asked if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement still deports DREAM Act-eligible students, agency spokesman Brandon Alvarez-Montgomery said "we continue to investigate and review cases that meet our priorities and further our mission to protect the United States from immigration violators that are threats to our national security and public safety."

The senators’ letter shows “officials on both sides of the aisle are willing to make the policy changes necessary to stave off the self-imposed brain-drain caused by our broken immigration system,” said Tyler Moran, policy director at the National Immigration Law Center.

But Congress has so far showed little appetite for moving forward on legislation, including the narrowly-focused DREAM Act which Sens. Durbin and Lugar introduced in March separate from comprehensive immigration reform proposals on the Hill.

UPDATE:  Department of Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler told ABC News the senators' request illustrates the need for immigration reform and that in the interim the the agency will continue to exercise "discretion" in deportation cases on a "case by case basis, as appropriate," adding it can "grant a deferral of removal action based on the merits of an individual's case and a review of specific facts.”

ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf contributed to this report.

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