Where Do the Candidates Stand on Legalization of Unauthorized Immigrants?


We asked the 2020 presidential candidates where they stood on the legalization of unauthorized immigrants:

  1. How would you address the population of unauthorized immigrants in the United States, including Dreamers, DACA recipients, and TPS recipients?
  2. Do you support enactment of a legalization plan that provides unauthorized immigrants with lawful permanent resident status and the opportunity to apply for citizenship?

Here's where the candidates stand:

Opposes Legalization No Position Supports Legalization
Donald Trump

Donald Trump (R)

Joe Walsh

Joe Walsh (R)

Mark Sanford

Mark Sanford (R)

Roque De La Fuente

Roque De La Fuente (R)

William Weld

William Weld (R)

Michael Bennet

Michael Bennet (D)

Joe Biden

Joe Biden (D)

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg (D)

Cory Booker

Cory Booker (D)

Steve Bullock

Steve Bullock (D)

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg (D)

Julián Castro

Julián Castro (D)

John Delaney

John Delaney (D)

Tulsi Gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard (D)

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris (D)

Amy Klobuchar

Amy Klobuchar (D)

Wayne Messam

Wayne Messam (D)

Beto O'Rourke

Beto O'Rourke (D)

Deval Patrick

Deval Patrick (D)

Tim Ryan

Tim Ryan (D)

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders (D)

Joe Sestak

Joe Sestak (D)

Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer (D)

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren (D)

Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson (D)

Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang (D)


AILA's Position:

People have lived for years in the United States without authorization while nonetheless paying taxes and contributing to their communities—including Dreamers, DACA recipients, and TPS recipients. They should be given the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent resident status and ultimately citizenship if they choose. A legalization plan should be enacted that is broad and inclusive to enable the greatest number of people to qualify while also providing a rigorous screening process to keep our nation safe. With polls for several years consistently showing that 3 out of 4 Americans support legalization, as well as continuing bipartisan support for legalization, there is no reason to delay.

Candidates' Positions

All the Democratic candidates and Republican candidates Roque De La Fuente and Bill Weld support the legalization of unauthorized immigrants, though in varying degrees. Among them, some simply state that they support legalization of the unauthorized population while others identify specific populations that would be eligible for legalization, including Dreamers, TPS recipients, and nationals of certain countries that could be designated for TPS (such as Venezuela). Republican Mark Sanford has not taken a position on legalization. President Trump and Joe Walsh oppose legalization of unauthorized immigrants.

Candidates Supporting Legalization of Unauthorized Immigrants:

Roque De La Fuente (R)

Mr. De La Fuente has tweeted that “Immigration remains a problem because there are those who want to politically exploit it. This has to stop! We need reform that expedites the process, expands work visas, & honors DACA.”

Bill Weld (R)

Mr. Weld has indicated he supports some form of legal status for unauthorized immigrants living in the United States and has criticized President Trump’s proposals to deport Mexican and Central American immigrants. – PBS Newshour, February 15, 2019.

Michael Bennet (D)

In 2013, Sen. Bennet was one of the leading senators in the bipartisan gang of eight which cosponsored S.744, the comprehensive immigration reform bill that included a legalization plan for unauthorized immigrants. His campaign has not set forth a position on legalization.

Joe Biden (D)

“The next president must institute effective immigration reform while restoring regional policies grounded in respect. That starts by recognizing that DREAMers are Americans, and Congress needs to make it official. The millions of undocumented people in the United States can only be brought out of the shadows through fair treatment, not ugly threats. Trump’s efforts to repeal Temporary Protected Status (TPS) across the board have injected unnecessary uncertainty into the lives of thousands of families.” – Op-Ed, June 24, 2019, Miami Herald

Michael Bloomberg (D)

Mr. Bloomberg is the founder of a coalition of business leaders known as the New American Economy, which has supported the DREAM Act and DACA and provided moral and economic support for the policies. Mr. Bloomberg’s record shows that he has supported comprehensive immigration reform since at least 2010, going back to his role as mayor of New York City.

According to his campaign website, the “pro-immigration reform” coalition represents “more than 500 mayors and CEOs from all 50 states who are highlighting the contributions of immigrants.” In 2017, Mr. Bloomberg penned an op-ed in Newsmax stating, “The administration’s threat to rescind the legal status of 800,000 individuals brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents would be a monumentally bad economic decision that — in its cruelty toward innocent people — would also be patently un-American.” Mr. Bloomberg does not specifically address TPS holders, but did support its extension in 2011 after the earthquake in Haiti.

Cory Booker (D)

In his response to the AILA Survey, Sen. Booker indicated that he supports granting permanent legal status to unauthorized immigrants and the opportunity to apply for citizenship. He wrote:

As president, I would fight to restore and expand policies that provide protection to Dreamers, their families, individuals with TPS, and those with DED status. But I would also go beyond that, and promote opportunities to help beneficiaries pursue available pathways to citizenship as outlined in Rep. Roybal-Allard’s Dream and Promise Act.

His campaign website states: “After nearly two years of litigation, the fate of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) remains uncertain. In September 2017, the Trump Administration rescinded the DACA program, throwing the lives and futures of more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children—including their family members and communities—into limbo. Over the past two-and-a-half years, the Trump Administration also has moved to revoke Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 98% of recipients, as well as for Liberians with Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). These people—the vast majority of whom have lived and worked in the U.S. with lawful status for decades—may soon face the prospect of being deported to unsafe and unstable conditions in their former home countries.”

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Steve Bullock (D)

Gov. Bullock will “provide legal status to DREAMers. It’s simply unfair and immoral to prevent these kids—who are as much a part of the fabric of American society as anyone else—from becoming legal residents with an option to become naturalized citizens. For almost all of them, America is their only real home.” He will also “work to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform allowing undocumented immigrants the chance to get right with the law by paying a fine, going to the back of the legal immigration line, and learning English. If they do these things, they should receive legal permanent resident status so that they may ultimately earn their citizenship.” His website also states: “Steve will also consider ways to aid Venezuelans who have been displaced—including supporting Temporary Protected Status for those in the U.S.—without supporting Maduro’s brutal regime.” Campaign website

Pete Buttigieg (D)

In his response to the AILA Survey, Mayor Buttigieg stated:

We must create a pathway to citizenship for the approximately 11 million undocumented people living here, as well as institute temporary protections for Dreamers, parents of Dreamers, TPS and DED holders while we wait for legislation to pass. That we have not yet gotten this done shows us how broken our democracy is. That is why my first priority is to fix our democracy. After that, we can pass legislation that reflects the will of the American people, who widely support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are already part of communities.

Julián Castro (D)

In his response to the AILA Survey, Mr. Castro stated:

Undocumented immigrants and families have lived in the United States for years, paying taxes and contributing to their communities. These people includes Dreamers and recipients of DACA, DED, and TPS status. In my administration, these new Americans will have a pathway to citizenship.

Through the Dream and Promise Act of 2019, I will defend DACA, TPS, and DED protections. I will ensure that parents of American citizens and lawful residents, many who have been here for decades, raising their children are shielded from deportations by reinstituting the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program during the legislative process.

I also support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States and the designation of TPS status for Venezuelans if the conditions in that country persist.

Mr. Castro will “establish an inclusive roadmap to citizenship for undocumented individuals and families who do not have a current pathway to legal status, but who live, work, and raise families in communities throughout the United States.” He will also “provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and those under Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure, through the Dream and Promise Act of 2019, and defend and expand DACA, TPS, and DED protections, and re-institute the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program during the legislative process.” Campaign website

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John Delaney (D)

“Delaney would negotiate a comprehensive immigration reform deal. Immigration reform needs to be accomplished with bipartisan support, such as the bipartisan deal that passed the Senate in 2013. […] Comprehensive immigration reform should create a clear path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and DREAMers.” Campaign website

Tulsi Gabbard (D)

“We need to ensure we have a clear, enforceable, accessible, and humane pathway to citizenship. Most urgently, we must pass DACA to ensure children who know no other home are allowed to remain in the U.S. and take steps to ensure children are not separated from their parents.” Campaign website

Rep. Gabbard is a cosponsor of the DREAM Act of 2017 and other legislation supporting Dreamers and DACA.

Kamala Harris (D)

“As president, Kamala will fight to pass immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people living in our communities and contributing to our economy. While she wages that fight, she will immediately reinstate DACA and implement DAPA to protect DREAMers and their parents from deportation. She will also restore and expand Temporary Protected Status for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who would face war or catastrophe if forced to return home.” Campaign website

Amy Klobuchar (D)

“Comprehensive immigration reform is also crucial to moving our economy and our country forward. Amy supports a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes the DREAM Act, border security and an accountable pathway to earned citizenship” Campaign website.

Sen. Klobuchar voted in favor of the 2013 Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill, S.744, which included a broad legalization plan.

Wayne Messam (D)

“We need to reform our immigration system from top to bottom and make sure our country is not only safer, but also more inclusive of, immigrants. The first thing we need to do is provide a pathway to citizenship for American Dreamers. This is a long overdue action for people who, through no fault of their own, find their path to the American Dream blocked. Then, we should offer comprehensive immigration reform that re-establishes a fair and orderly process to achieve the American dream.” Campaign website

Beto O’Rourke (D)

“As president, Beto will […] immediately remove the fear of deportation for Dreamers and their parents and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) beneficiaries, and begin work towards a permanent legislative solution. […] In his first hundred days, Beto will put the full weight of the presidency behind passing legislation that: creates an earned pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people that is more efficient than previous proposals and includes an immediate path for Dreamers and beneficiaries of programs like the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) programs.”Campaign website

Deval Patrick (D)

As governor of Massachusetts, he supported a policy permitting undocumented residents to pay in-state college tuition rates at state colleges, a step that was designed to benefit DACA recipients. In 2012, Mr. Patrick tweeted his support for comprehensive immigration reform. He spoke about his support of comprehensive immigration reform in 2019, stating that reform should include implementing “modern, humane, responsive, responsible systems and rules.”

Tim Ryan (D)

In his response to the AILA Survey, Rep. Ryan answered that he supports the legalization of unauthorized immigrants and granting them the opportunity to apply for citizenship. He also stated:

On day 1 I would order DHS to: 1) rescind DHS memoranda of February 20, 2017 Implementing the President's Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvement Policies; and Enforcement of the Immigration Laws to Serve the National Interest and reinstate the Obama era civil immigration enforcement priorities; 2) restore DACA by rescinding the Memorandum on Rescission Of Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA); and take steps to rescind the cancellation of TPS where appropriate.

Rep. Ryan has said Dreamers “epitomize who we want to come to the United States” and that “we need to take care of the Dreamer issue.” “I think we need to do that immediately,” he added, referring to participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program Huffington Post, March 30, 2019. He was a sponsor of the American Hope Act in 2017 and the Dream Act in 2017 which provided permanent legal status to Dreamers.

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Bernie Sanders (D)

In his response to the AILA Survey, Sen. Sanders wrote:

Bernie will work with Congress to pass the DREAM Act. He will also immediately extend and expand DACA and make deferred action available for more young people through executive action, as well as their parents. Bernie believes a pathway to citizenship should be broad and inclusive.

If Congress does not follow the will of the people to enact humane immigration reform, Bernie will use executive action to accomplish what they fail to do. He would expand upon President Obama’s DACA and DAPA programs to provide broad administrative relief to the parents of DREAMers, the parents of citizens, and the parents of legal permanent residents. He will also allow all undocumented individuals who have been in the United States for at least five years to stay in the country without fear of deportation, which is well within the President’s executive authority.

Yes. Bernie agrees with the vast majority of Americans who believe we must bring the 11 million undocumented people in the country out of the shadows and provide a swift, fair path to citizenship. Bernie would ensure any path to citizenship is broad and inclusive, minimizes fees and waiting times, and ensures citizenship for those who pursue it within five years. A truly just pathway to citizenship does not contain arbitrary cut off eligibility dates and application periods. Such deadlines risk excluding hundreds of thousands of people who have arrived in the United States ‘too late,’ but have become an integral part of the American community.

In Sen. Sanders’ immigration platform, he further expands extending DACA and DAPA “using his full executive authority to provide relief for parents and caregivers of citizens and lawful permanent residents.” He will ensure that “85 of those undocumented immigrants who have lived, worked, and contributed in America for five or more years can live their life without fear of deportation.” Sen. Sanders’ plan will “immediately extend legal status to the 1.8 million young people currently eligible for the DACA program, and provide administrative relief to their parents, those with Temporary Protected Status, and parents of legal permanent residents” and “expand to all those who came to the United States under the age of 18 and remove arbitrary cut off dates.” His plan will “use advance parole” to reunite families and “return unjustly deported service members.” Additionally, it will “expand parole in place to the families and caregivers of citizens and legal permanent residents and employed workers, and use hardship waivers to remove barriers to green cards and citizenship for as many eligible cases as possible.” Sen. Sanders’ platform uses a “newly created independent clemency board in the White House to remove barriers to status adjustment such as old or low-level criminal justice contacts and unlawful presence.” As part of his plan for a pathway to citizenship, Sen. Sanders will “ensure that old or low-level contacts with the criminal justice system, such as marijuana possession, do not automatically prevent undocumented immigrants from attaining citizenship,” “prioritize expedited citizenship for undocumented youth,” and “ensure any path to citizenship does not come with a reduction in traditional, family-based visas.”

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Joe Sestak (D)

In his response to the AILA Survey, Mr. Sestak wrote:

I support comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, who will have to pay a fine, pay any back taxes, learn basic English, and get to the back of the line (though I do not believe they should have to return to their former country). Dreamers are a special case and I believe they should be treated so in any legislation, because people who were brought to this country as minors and have been brought up as Americans should never face deportation to a country they barely know or don’t know at all. I would therefore support an expedited path to citizenship for DACA recipients and other Dreamers. When it comes to Temporary Protective Status (TPS), I will always err on the side of the people our country has committed to protecting. Unless there has been a clear and dramatic improvement of the situation that led to a TPS program being initiated, I will not send people who have begun making a new life in the United States back to a dangerous situation.

Tom Steyer (D)

On September 4, 2019, Mr. Steyer tweeted the following: “We don't need a wall. We need comprehensive and humane immigration reform.” NextGen America, the progressive political action committee created in 2013 by Mr. Steyer, states on its website: “A system that depends upon the labor of immigrants, but fails to offer a path to citizenship, is inherently unjust.” Mr. Steyer has not elaborated further on a legalization plan.

Elizabeth Warren (D)

In her response to the AILA Survey, Sen. Warren wrote:

Yes. My immigration plan includes a fair and achievable pathway to citizenship.

Immigrants have always been a vital source of American strength. They are our neighbors, our colleagues, and our friends—and every bit as much a part of America as those who were born in the United States. We must reverse President Trump’s discriminatory policies, but that won’t be nearly enough to fix our immigration system. We need real reform that provides cost-effective security at our borders, addresses the root causes of migration, and provides a path to status and citizenship so our neighbors don’t have to live in fear.

As President, I’ll take executive action to provide a measure of protection for immigrants who are here undocumented, while pursuing a legislative solution that provides a path to citizenship. I’ll reinstate Temporary Protected Status designations and Deferred Enforced Departure to protect individuals at risk in their home countries, including migrants from the Caribbean and Africa who have built lives and businesses in our country. We should immediately reinstate the DACA program and protections for our Dreamers and their families. I’ll expand the program to cover more young people by extending the cut-off date, eliminating the arbitrary application age requirement, and extending the “minor” designation to anyone who was brought to the U.S. under the age of 18. But Dreamers have families and communities that are productive, longtime members of our American family and need protection too. The same is true of the Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure holders. I’ll extend the individual exercise of discretion to offer deferred action protections to hardworking immigrants who have contributed to our country for years and have built careers and families here. And I’ll push for a far-reaching legislative fix that provides a fair but achievable path to citizenship for them.

Part of focusing on real threats means distinguishing between actual criminals and law-abiding immigrants. We shouldn’t penalize people for prior convictions under statutes that criminalize border crossing for the purpose of status determinations. And we should establish a statute of limitations for how long a misdemeanor will be considered as part of an individual’s immigration adjudication. Citizens with minor, non-violent criminal records should not be permanently excluded from being a part of American society—and immigrants shouldn’t be, either.

I will also fight to repeal the 3- and 10-year bars. The law currently requires a person unlawfully in the United States to depart the country for three or ten years before they can apply for legal status. I’ll petition Congress to repeal that requirement. In the meantime, I’ll reinterpret “extreme hardship” to include family separation, making it easier to obtain a waiver allowing people to apply for legal status without having to leave the country for an extended period of time.

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Marianne Williamson (D)

“I support legislative reforms that include a full path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who do not have serious criminal background issues.” Ms. Williamson states that her administration will “provide a timely, ethical, transparent and straightforward path to citizenship for all law-abiding, productive immigrants living in the United States.” She also will “stop punishing children brought into the United States by their parents for now being here. I fully support DACA. Our dreamers represent the best about our future. I would also work to expand protections and naturalization to all undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children, regardless of their current age. They came here through no fault of their own, and many are, in fact, unaware that they are undocumented.” Campaign website

Andrew Yang (D)

“There are millions of undocumented immigrants in this country who were brought here as children through no fault of their own. America is the only home they’ve ever known. They’ve assimilated into our culture and view themselves as Americans, despite living under the constant fear of deportation. This is wrong. We need to find a solution that allows these individuals to formally integrate into our country. […] As President, I will support the DREAM Act as a part of comprehensive immigration and border security reforms ….” He also states, “We have to face facts that there are over 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. Millions of them pay taxes and have American children. Deporting them is impossible and inhumane. Having them continue to live in the shadows brings with it many problems and drawbacks. The best path forward is to provide a pathway to citizenship for those who are here illegally. We need to bring them into the formal economy out of the shadows. I am the son of immigrants and understand those who have come here to build a better life for themselves and their families.” Campaign website


Candidates with No Position:

Mark Sanford (R)

Mr. Sanford does not have a stated position on the legalization of unauthorized immigrants. In 2016, while serving in the House of Representatives, Mr. Sanford supported an amendment that would block funding for the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program which the Department of Defense made available for DACA recipients. If the amendment was successful it would have blocked the enlistment of DACA recipients through MAVNI. While his vote indicates his opposition to DACA recipients enlisting through MAVNI, the vote does not indicate a clear position on unauthorized immigrants.


Candidates Who Oppose Legalization of Unauthorized Immigrants:

Donald Trump (R)

President Trump’s response to AILA’s Survey did not answer the question about the unauthorized immigrant population. He has attempted to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and rescinded the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program initiated by President Obama. His rescission of the DACA program is being litigated before the Supreme Court. In 2018, Mr. Trump endorsed a reform plan that called for significant cuts to the legal immigration system of about half of all visas (including elimination of some family-based visa categories and the diversity visa lottery) and sweeping changes to border and interior enforcement in exchange for legalizing the DACA population.

Joe Walsh (R)

Mr. Walsh has not issued a plan addressing the unauthorized immigrant population. According to ALIPAC, which favors restrictions on immigration, Mr. Walsh has pledged to oppose “amnesty” for unauthorized immigrants and comprehensive immigration reform.