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Elizabeth Warren’s Immigration Plan Would Decriminalize Illegal Entry Into The United States

Elizabeth Warren

Some prominent Democrats outside the race have criticized the policy as ‘tantamount’ to open borders. 


2020 presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) released a plan on immigration Thursday that she says will “create a rules-based system that is fair, humane, and that reflects our values.”

Consistent with what many other Democrats in the race have been advocating, Warren is proposing reducing legal penalties for illegal border crossings, a move first proposed by fellow 2020 rival and former secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and quickly adopted by others in the race.

Some prominent Democrats outside the race have criticized the policy as “tantamount” to open borders. Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama, condemned the policy as impractical, warning that it would only encourage more foreign citizens to take the journey, making the existing problem on the border worse.

“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,” Johnson told the Washington Post last week.

Yet while the Warren plan calls for erasing criminal penalties for crossing the border, the proposal keeps in place civil penalties for such actions, still a similar position shared by other presidential candidates.

Warren’s proposal on immigration also called for the restructuring from “top to bottom” of two of the nation’s leading immigration enforcement agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Warren said she wants to change the culture at the two agencies recently embroiled in controversy over the overcrowded conditions for detained migrants at the border and the revelations of secret Facebook groups mocking prominent Democrats and minorities.

“I’ll reshape CBP and ICE from top to bottom, focusing their efforts on homeland security efforts like screening cargo, identifying counterfeit goods, and preventing smuggling and trafficking,” Warren wrote in a blog post announcing her latest plan.

The Massachusetts senator also wants to separate law enforcement duties from immigration enforcement, arguing that crimes often go unreported when law enforcement enforces U.S. immigration laws while carrying out their other duties.

Warren’s plan also has much in common with 2020 White House rival U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) plan on immigration released last week by calling on stricter limits on detaining foreign citizens who illegally cross the U.S. border. As with Booker’s plan to “virtually eliminate” illegal immigrant detention, Warren’s proposal includes the elimination of private detention facilities and seeks to use alternatives to the use of such facilities to end what Warren refers to as “unnecessary detention.”

Much of Warren’s proposal also features promises to undo steps taken under the Trump administration to curtail immigration, such as eliminating the travel ban from several chaotic countries. Warren also wants to raise the cap on the number of refugees to be admitted from 125,000 in her first year as president to 175,000 by the end of her first term. Her proposal also seeks to enhance protections for asylum seekers, includes a pathway to citizenship for foreign citizens who are illegally present inside the United States, and advocates for expanding legal immigration.

Warren’s latest proposal puts the 70-year-old senator on the liberal side of the immigration debate among the 25-candidate field competing for the Democratic presidential nomination. Throughout the campaign, Warren has cemented a reputation among the candidates as one with concrete plans in a variety of areas, earning herself a featured spot on the cover of Time Magazine along with the words, “I have a plan for that” on a May edition of the publication.

The latest aggregate of polls from Real Clear Politics shows Warren with an average rate of primary voter support at just more than 14 percent, putting the senator comfortably in fourth place in the crowded field of candidates, behind Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).