The Senate on Tuesday confirmed a nomination from President Barack Obama who told Congress that she doesn't believe it's possible for her to enforce all immigration laws.
The Senate confirmed Sarah Saldana to be an assistant secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in a 55-39 vote. Republicans have opposed her since she provided written responses to questions that indicate she is in full support of President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration.
Obama's action was based on the idea of prosecutorial discretion — the idea that with limited resources, the government has to focus on enforcing some laws and not others. Republicans say that discretion should not be used to exempt whole classes of illegal immigrants from immigration law, as Obama has proposed.
But in her written answers, Saldana said there is little choice but to give up the idea of enforcing all federal laws as passed by Congress, and that Obama's exemptions are therefore valid.
"My own experience in making tough prosecutorial decisions by my 100-county district clearly precludes the idea that I can fully enforce all the thousands of federal statutes and regulations on the books for which I am responsible," she wrote. "I believe that the use of prosecutorial discretion is an important management and law enforcement tool."
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who originally supported Saldana's nomination, spoke against her on the Senate floor Tuesday just before the vote.
"Ms. Saldana, as I've said, is somebody who I admire and respect," he said. "But if she is determined to help the president implement this deeply flawed executive action, and refuse to enforce the law that Congress has written and has been signed by previous presidents, I can't support her nomination."
"I will not aid and abet a president dead set on unilaterally defying our nation's immigration laws," he added.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) added that Saldana has said illegal immigrants who have been in the country long enough are entitled to U.S. citizenship.
"That's bold," Lee said. "This is an extraordinarily bold assertion on her part."
"[T]o assert that citizenship — not just the right to remain here for a time, but full-blow citizenship — is a matter of right, and that it has been earned by the very act of breaking our immigration laws, is an unacceptable view for a person who's been nominated to be the head four nation's immigration enforcement office," he said.
Saldana's confirmation is the second this week that was only able to happen because Democrats changed Senate rules to allow nominees to advance with just a simple majority vote. Before last year's change, it took 60 votes to advance nominations, and that meant getting at least some Republican support — Republicans say the change has allowed Democrats to confirm more extreme nominees.
Saldana was advanced in a 53-41 vote, seven votes short of the 60 she would have needed a year ago.
On Monday, the Senate approved the nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy to be Surgeon General. He was advanced in a 51-43 vote, nine short of the 60 votes that used to be required.