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Democratic Debate Shows Presidential Candidates Are Divided on Immigration

The Trump administration’s controversial stance on immigration has seemingly united 2020 Democratic presidential nominees in their opposition toward the current administration’s policies. But at last night’s Democratic presidential party debate – where former Vice President Joe Biden, California Senator Kamala Harris, Sen. Cory Booker, and former U.S. Secretary Julián Castro spoke – it was obvious that their plans for immigration reform were still divided.

At last night’s debate, for one, Joe Biden said he does not condone illegal immigration unless migrants are seeking asylum. “If you say you can just cross the border, what do you say to all of those people around the world who want the same thing — to come to the United States and make their case — that they have to wait in line,” Biden said. “The fact of the matter is … if you cross the border illegally, you should be able to be sent back. It’s a crime.”

Biden often alludes to his work with Obama and his stance is in line with Obama’s, who deported roughly 3 million people during his presidency, more than any other president including Trump. Obama, nicknamed “deporter in chief” prioritized deporting convicted criminals and recent arrivals but this distinction between his approach and Trump’s didn’t come into play as much as his deportations, an issue protesters who showed up during the debate made sure Biden didn’t forget.

According to Newsweek, a group of protesters known as the Cosecha Movement interrupted the debate in protest of Biden chanting “3 million deportations” and carrying a Mexico rebozo scarf that read, “Stop all deportations on day one.”

One of the leaders of the demonstration by the immigrant rights group at the Democratic debate in Detroit told Newsweek that [they] did that “because the immigrant community in Michigan is facing a crisis and we need our voices and our demand to be heard: any candidate who claims to be against Trump’s raids and family separations needs to make a real commitment to protect all 11 million undocumented immigrants from detention and deportation.”

Conversely, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro discussed his plan to decriminalize immigration by repealing Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act that makes it a misdemeanor for immigrants who come to the U.S. without papers.

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Under his Castro’s immigration plan, it would still be illegal for people to enter the U.S. without a visa, but it would be a civil violation, not a criminal one and people are not put in jail for civil infractions under federal law.

This would be a drastic shift from the current administration’s policies and the current situation at the southern border where children are being kept in cages and families are being separated – which Trump falsely claimed began with Obama in a tweet during the debate.

Both Sen. Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren support Castor’s plan citing that it would stop the cruel treatment of immigrants and the unsafe conditions they’re currently under.

“No, Mr. Vice President, we are not going to let people cross the border,” Booker said. “An unlawful crossing is an unlawful crossing if you do it in the civil courts or the criminal courts. The criminal courts are giving Donald Trump the ability to violate the human rights of people coming to our country. They’re human rights. And so doing it through the civil courts means you won’t need these awful detention facilities that I’ve been to, seeing children sleeping on pavements, people being put in cages, nursing mothers, small children. This is not necessary. We have seen, using the civil system, pilot programs that have 100 percent compliance with the civil courts where people are evaluated. If they have no reason to be here, they are returned.”

Biden is currently leading the polls but his stance is more moderate than some of the more progressive nominees which was evident when he suggested that decriminalizing immigration means they want open borders.

What it really means, as Booker suggested, is that the current state of detention centers would drastically change since they wouldn’t be going through criminal courts. This debate is a clear indication that the current state of immigration is going to be a central focus with the intention for some of the key nominees being a departure from the current state of Trump’s detention centers.