Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris on Wednesday said she would shield six million undocumented immigrants from deportation, a significant expansion of an Obama-era program protecting "Dreamers" brought to the United States as children.
The California U.S. senator proposed using the powers of the presidency to create a "roadmap to citizenship" for Dreamers while also offering new protections to the parents of American citizens and legal permanent residents as well as other law-abiding immigrants with strong roots in the community.
The proposal, which would rely on the president's executive authority over the nation's immigration laws, is a direct rebuke to President Donald Trump's efforts to clamp down on immigration and build a wall to restrict the flow of immigrants from Central America.
Harris is one of some two dozen Democrats seeking their party's nomination for the 2020 presidential election.
"Dreamers cannot afford to sit around and wait for Congress to get its act together," Harris said in a statement. "These young people are just as American as I am, and they deserve a president who will fight for them from day one."
Harris released her plan a day before the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to discuss whether to take up the Trump administration's challenge to a 2012 program established by former President Barack Obama that gave Dreamers temporary protections.
The program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, remains in place after lower courts blocked Trump's attempt to cancel it. The Trump administration has argued that Obama exceeded his constitutional powers in creating DACA without congressional approval.
Last week, the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would end the threat of deportation for Dreamers, but the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate is unlikely to consider the legislation.
Harris would expand the eligibility for Dreamers to gain protection against deportation and apply for work permits. The plan calls for eliminating several legal roadblocks that currently prevent many Dreamers from adjusting their legal status.
In addition, the program would be open to other immigrants who pass background checks, based on factors such as military service, years of residence and family ties to others who have received protections.
Immigration, which was central to Trump's 2016 campaign, is likely to play a major role in next year's election.