While the presidential campaign heats up, 2020 Democratic candidates are racing to propose the most dangerous immigration policy for the country. The Democratic candidates are echoing each other’s calls for increasingly relaxed border security as horrid conditions at facilities overcrowded with illegal entrants attempting to exploit U.S. asylum loopholes sparks national outrage.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) announced on Tuesday that he would “virtually eliminate immigration detention” through an executive order on his first day in office if elected. Julian Castro said in last week’s debate that he would decriminalize illegal border crossings, a policy that other candidates in the race flocked to support.
Other prominent Democrats have called for a more cautious approach in crafting immigration policy, but they are increasingly few and far between. Jeh Johnson, who served as secretary of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama’s second term, criticized the idea to decriminalize illegally crossing the border.
“That is tantamount to declaring publicly that we have open borders,” Johnson told the Washington Post, going on to warn that decriminalization would cause migration numbers to skyrocket. “That is unworkable, unwise and does not have the support of a majority of American people or the Congress, and if we had such a policy, instead of 100,000 apprehensions a month, it will be multiples of that.”
Ruy Teixeira, a Democratic political commentator, also criticized the notion of no longer making it a crime to trespass into the United States with no vetting from U.S. officials.
“This will sound to many voters like open borders, which is a terrible position for Democrats to be in,” Teixeira wrote in a post on Facebook. “Americans want their borders to be controlled, with limits on the amount of immigration and asylum-seeking.”
Andrew Sullivan, a prominent liberal writer, even published an op-ed Friday arguing Democrats are proposing open borders.
“A big majority of the candidates in the Democratic debates also want to remove the grounds for detention at all, by repealing the 1929 law that made illegal entry a criminal offense and turning it into a civil one. And almost all of them said that if illegal immigrants do not commit a crime once they’re in the U.S., they should be allowed to become citizens,” Sullivan wrote. “How, I ask, is that not practically open borders?”
George Stephanopoulos challenged Castro on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday on whether his immigration proposals were essentially open border policies:
When you add up all the proposals you’re calling for right now, decriminalization of crossing the border, no deportation absent other crimes, the offer of health benefits, also a possible path to citizenship, I know you reject the rhetoric about open borders but isn’t that effectively open borders? Not limiting our immigration in any way?
Castro pushed back. “There is no way we can call that open borders because we have 654 miles of fencing, we have thousands of personnel at the border, we have planes, we have helicopters, boats, security cameras, guns. That’s by no stretch of the imagination open borders,” Castro said.
During the second night of last week’s Democratic debates, Telemundo host Jose Diaz-Balart questioned the candidates on stage whether they would support ending legal penalties for illegal border crossings. Each candidate raised his or her hand except for Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet. Former vice president Joe Biden raised his hand half-way in a gesture to the moderators to speak on the issue.
The issue highlights Castro’s growing influence in the race, and that of the Democratic Party’s far-left flank. Castro was the first of the major 2020 White House hopefuls to release a major immigration plan. The former San Antonio mayor and former Housing and Urban Development secretary under the Obama administration has been struggling to pick up momentum in the race since announcing his candidacy in January, making his immigration platform the centerpiece of his campaign.
While Castro’s debate performance in Miami was well-received, his poll numbers have only ticked up slightly, putting the candidate in eighth place with an average of 1.3 percent support, according to RealClearPolitics’ aggregate of polls.