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By Madison Black October 29, 2020

Joni Ernst said she 'stood with the Dreamers' but hasn't always supported DACA

If Your Time is short

  •  Ernst has said she supports keeping immigrant children — Dreamers — in the United States through legal means.
     
  • She adds that she favors a path to citizenship for these youth.
     
  • Ernst has voted “no” twice on legislative amendments that called for an end of deporting Dreamers but also has voted “yes” on bills to give Dreamers a path to citizenship.

Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and her Democratic challenger in this year’s election, Theresa Greenfield, squared off in three televised debates to take on several topics important to Iowans, including immigration.

Asked on Iowa Public Television the night of Sept. 28 if she supported residency, legal status, or citizenship for Dreamers – immigrant youths qualifying to stay in the United States under the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act – Ernst said:

"I have been very clear with DACA. Even in my campaign six years ago I stood for those Dreamers."

Asked if this would mean granting legal residency or citizenship for Dreamers, Ernst responded, "I would support more of a legal residency."

DACA, which is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, protects juveniles who came into the United States under specified circumstances from deportation. Immigrants in the program have to renew their DACA status every two years.

We wanted to look at the statement because of how emotional this topic is and how significant it is politically.

We looked into statements from Ernst’s office as a U.S. senator, her voting record, her 2014 campaign for the seat she holds, and her performance in 2014 debates for the seat with her then-challenger, Democrat Bruce Braley. The Ernst campaign did not respond to PolitiFact’s request to comment, although campaign spokesperson Brendan Conley sent on what he called background links to news stories in which Ernst said she would not vote to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Our research has shown that while she has consistently claimed to support the Dreamers, she has voted both for and against legislation that would grant permanent legal residency to those with DACA status.

During a U.S. Senate debate on Oct. 11, 2014, Ernst was asked if she would try to repeal DACA. She first responded, "No, I would not." She then elaborated, saying,

"There are a number of children who have been brought here not of their own accord, and I do support allowing those children some of the freedoms that are here in the United States. We are a country of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws, which is why with a comprehensive immigration plan I don’t support the amnesty for those adults that knowingly come here when it is illegal to do so."

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A statement on her Senate website is consistent with what Ernst said at the debate. She says on that website she "supported efforts to block overreaching executive amnesty" but she would like to "modernize our broken immigration system by enacting reforms to promote improved legal avenues for workers and families."

Her website also includes a statement on DACA from September 2017 in which she states, in regard to the Dreamers, "…we must show compassion toward these children. While I do not support giving them citizenship, we must identify and pursue a measured approach that addresses their unique situation, but also respects the importance of our immigration laws and discourages future illegal immigration."

Ernst also made an appearance on Iowa Press in 2017, where she said she would "vote to grant legal permanent residency to those that are currently covered under DACA."

She said while this was a point of conflict, some legislators "would insist on immediate citizenship" while others "would insist on absolutely no citizenship, under any circumstances" for DACA recipients. She went on to say that she stood somewhere in the middle, and that she would like to see a permanent status for those who are covered by DACA.

Ernst’s voting record in the Senate shows mixed approaches. In 2018, Ernst voted against two proposals that would have provided a path to legal residency for Dreamers. One proposal was an amendment attached to an Internal Revenue Service bill that would allow a tax credit to be used to pay for unsubsidized COBRA health coverage. The amendment, S. Amdt 1958 to H.R. 2579, was introduced by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and called for an end to removing DACA recipients from the country and to adjust their status to that of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence on a conditional basis. DACA recipients no longer eligible for the designation because of misconduct would not be granted this status change under the amendment. A Senate cloture vote to bring the amendment up for approval failed 54 to 45 in favor but needing 60 yes votes to move forward. While some Republicans voted to move the matter to a final decision, Ernst voted no.

The second proposal Ernst voted against was another amendment in the same IRS-related bill introduced by Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Delaware, S. Amdt. 1955 to S. Amdt. 1958, which included the same provision for DACA recipients. The Senate decision to move toward a final vote on that amendment also failed, 52 to 47 for cloture, with some Republicans, but not Ernst, voting to move forward.

Ernst voted to approve one 2018 proposal, S. Amdt. 1959 to H.R. 2579, which includes an opportunity for 1.8 million DACA or DACA-eligible residents to earn citizenship. She called the legislation in a statement on her government website "a reasonable approach to shielding children illegally brought to our country through no fault of their own while also taking the meaningful steps to ensure nobody finds themselves in the same situation in the future."

According to a report from Iowa Public Radio, Ernst said at a town hall meeting in Sigourney, Iowa, in 2018, "I’ve been an outspoken proponent for our DACA recipients. I think we have to find a pathway forward. They are contributing to our communities. They’re very important to us."

A year earlier, she delivered a similar message in Cedar Rapids.

Our ruling

Ernst has stated multiple times during and since her 2014 campaign that she supports DACA recipients and would vote to grant them legal permanent residency. However, her voting record does not completely indicate this. She has voted both for and against legislation that would grant legal permanent residency to DACA recipients throughout her term. When she had a chance to cross party lines and join a handful of other Republicans to support ending Dreamer deportations she voted "no." For these reasons, we rated the claim that Ernst has been clear with her stance on DACA and that even six years ago she stood for the Dreamers as being Half True.

UPDATE: Shortly after publication, we updated this story to include response from the Ernst campaign. 

Our Sources

"Congressional Record Senate Articles," Congress.gov

"Congressional Record Senate Articles," Congress.gov

"Ernst Says Dreamers Should Have Legal Status," Iowa Press, Oct. 20, 2017.

"Sen. Ernst Worried About DACA Recipients After President’s Tweets," by Kate Payne, Iowa Public Radio, Aug. 28, 2020.

Compassion, not citizenship, key to resolving DACA policy: Ernst, by James Q. Lynch, Sept. 7, 2017.

"Roll Call Vote 115th Congress – 2nd Session," U.S. Senate: U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 115th Congress – 2nd Session, Jan. 16, 2020.

"Roll Call Vote 115th Congress – 2nd Session," U.S. Senate: U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 115th Congress – 2nd Session, Jan. 16, 2020.

"Roll Call Vote 115th Congress – 2nd Session," U.S. Senate: U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 115th Congress – 2nd Session, Jan. 16, 2020.

"Senator Ernst Statement on DACA," Sen. Joni Ernst, Sept. 5, 2017.

"Senators to Introduce Border Security, DACA Framework," Sen. Joni Ernst, Feb. 11, 2018.

"Voting Record," Voting Record – Sen. Joni Ernst

"Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)," U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security website

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