Presidential hopefuls sparred over immigration during this week's second night of Democratic debates in Detroit, arguing, specifically, over how the next occupant of the White House will improve the system and correct approaches taken by past administrations.
Several of the candidates took swipes at former Vice President Joe Biden for his involvement in the record number of deportations that occured under the Obama administration.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio repeatedly asked Biden whether he ever urged Obama to reduce the deportations. Biden refused to disclose the counsel he gave to his former boss, but said he would “absolutely not” have similarly high deportation numbers if he wins in 2020.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker criticized Biden for avoiding the question: “You invoke President Obama more than anyone in this campaign. You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge it when it’s not,” he said.
Hecklers in the audience also interrupted Biden with chants condemning the immigration policies while he was in office.
A protester yells during the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. / Photo Credit: Paul Sancya/AP/Shutterstock
Julián Castro — who served under Obama as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development — also attacked Biden, saying “one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one of us hasn’t … we need someone who actually has guts on this issue.”
Since launching his campaign, Castro has made immigration reform a pillar of his platform. During the debate, he called for a Marshall-like Plan to develop the Northern Triangle nations — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — and address the root issues that are causing people to migrate to the U.S.
Castro also again called for the repeal of Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which is the statute that Trump invoked when his administration implemented its child separation policy.
Repealing the law — which would effectively decriminalize illegal border crossings — will create a system that is “smarter, more effective and more humane when it comes to immigration policy," Castro said. He rejected, however, the notion that his plan would create open borders, which he said is “a right-wing talking point.”
California Sen. Kamala Harris also called for decriminalizing border crossings and slammed Trump for his administration's child separation policy. “The policies of this administration have been facilitated by laws on the books,“ Harris said. “These immigrant children have not committed crimes and should not be treated like criminals.”
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand echoed the sentiment, saying that the U.S. should not “have a law on the books that can be so misused. It should be a civil violation and we should make sure that we treat people humanely.”
On the other hand, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet said he would not decriminalize border crossings, but harshly rebuked Trump for turning the county’s southern border “into a symbol of nativist hostility.” He also recalled how his mother was seperated from her parents during the Holocaust in Poland, while stressing that child seperation would not occur under his watch.
Biden also said he does not support decriminalizing illegal border crossings in order to stop the child separation policy. He stressed, however, that the only reason the law is being abused is because of Trump.
The debate over the child separation policy comes just a day after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the federal government for continuing to separate families, despite a court injunction.
Biden added that “people should have to get in line” to enter the U.S. and that people who enter illegally should be able to be deported. He also said that the U.S. can “tolerate a heck of a lot more” people — a far cry from Trump’s claim that the country is full. The U.S. should “boost the number of people we accept,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said as he touted his state’s openness to Syrian refugees.
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said that the U.S. must reform its immigration laws to make sure that the country has both secure borders and a humane immigration system, and Andrew Yang, a prominent businessman and entrepreneur, condemned the rhetoric used when discussing the issue, arguing that “immigrants are being scapegoated for issues they have nothing to do with.”
“If you go to a factory here in Michigan, you will not find wall-to-wall immigrants; you will find wall-to-wall robots and machines,” Yang said.