Republican Rep. Young Kim Puts Legal Status for DACA Recipients as Urgent Immigration Priority

Republican Representative Young Kim wants Congress to pass legislation that would allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to remain in the United States legally, but stopped short of calling for them to be given a pathway to citizenship.

The DACA program, which former President Barack Obama established in 2012, provided temporary deportation relief for children who were brought to the United States by their parents illegally. Without a way to permanently remain in the U.S. legally, DACA recipients were left in limbo as the Trump administration first tried to dismantle the program, then provide a pathway to citizenship.

When asked which U.S. immigration policy was in the most urgent need for reform, Kim told A Starting Point that legal status for DACA recipients was one of the items at the top of the list.

America is the only country many DACA recipients have known, and Kim— who arrived in the United States as a child with her family from South Korea—told hosts Mark Kassen and Chris Evans that they've been left with an unsure fate for too many years.

"I think they should be able to stay here legally," Kim said. "But we also need to remember there are people who have been waiting in line for a number of years."

daca citizenship young kim
Representative Young Kim advocated for giving DACA recipients a pathway to remain in the country legally but stopped short of calling for them to have a way to become a citizen. Students and supporters rally in support of DACA recipients on the day the Supreme Court hears arguments in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) case on November 12, 2019, in Los Angeles. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Under the American Dream and Promise Act, DACA recipients would be protected from deportation and have a pathway to citizenship if they came to the U.S. before they turned 18 and have lived here since January 1. Eligible DACA recipients would be granted permanent residence status for 10 years and then they could apply to be naturalized as a U.S. citizen.

Nine Republicans voted in favor of the legislation, which stalled in the Senate, but Kim wasn't one of them. She told ASP she was "disappointed" that it granted legal status to people who have only been in the United States since January. The California Republican noted it went "far beyond" giving legal status to Dreamers and said it hurts people who were "waiting here for years."

Along with prioritizing legal status for DACA recipients, Kim advocated for Congress to prioritize border security and streamlining the process for people who want to come to the United States.

"Look, the ultimate goal is to encourage legal immigration," Kim said. "DACA recipients have had their status in limbo for too long and they deserve a real solution that can become law. They are contributing to our communities each and every day. Many of them are job creators. Many of them are entrepreneurs so I believe they deserve a path to legal status."

Former President Donald Trump's attempt to end DACA after taking office failed with a Supreme Court ruling in 2020. After vowing to continue the fight, he posted on Twitter that he would sign an executive order providing a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients. He faced pushback from some Republicans for overstepping his bounds as president and the executive order didn't materialize.

While she advocated for America being open to immigrants, Kim said people coming to the country illegally and overstaying their visas "undermines" the U.S. immigration system. She also criticized plans to granting undocumented immigrants citizenship before those who came to the United States legally as being unfair.

Congress has been unable to pass meaningful immigration reform as Democrats and Republicans remain divided on the best way to approach people who are looking to start a new life in America. Despite it being the "most partisan institution" Kim has seen, she remained optimistic that party splits in both chambers presented an opportunity for reform.

"Right now, we have a tight majority in the House and the Senate and this is probably the most realistic time to get a true bipartisan reform passed," Kim said. "A partisan approach will only lead to this issue going unaddressed for more years to come. We have to come together."