Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and 2020 hopeful Julián Castro released his “people first” immigration platform Tuesday.
While most of the 16 Democratic nominees (and counting) have not shied away from calling out the Trump administration on its family separation policies or its Muslim ban, this is the first detailed immigration policy proposal from a 2020 candidate. Castro’s platform isn’t just reacting to Trump policies, and it goes beyond a simple endorsement of the Dream and Promise Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for the 2.1 million undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children and immigrants with temporary protected status.
Immigration activists maintain the Dream and Promise Act isn’t enough to address a flawed immigration system that has for years left law-abiding immigrant families in the lurch.
Castro’s proposal would not only establish a path to citizenship for Dreamers and repeal Trump’s ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority countries, but would revamp the visa system to reduce the backlog of individuals waiting to be reunited with their families in the United States.
In a recent report, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) found that visa processing times have surged by 41% over the last two fiscal years, and that case processing times increased substantially in FY 2018 even though the volume of cases decreased. Castro also has vowed to reverse the Trump administration’s decision to cap the number of refugees admissions at a historic low of just 30,000 people for the 2019 fiscal year.
The most ambitious and far-reaching of Castro’s proposal addresses a policy from the early 20th century named Section 1325, which Castro argues has allowed for the United States to criminalize immigration.
Section 1325 makes it a federal crime to enter the country without papers. It is largely responsible for allowing the separation of families in the spring of 2018, as the adults in the household were referred for criminal prosecution. To Castro, it is also extremely personal.
“This antiquated law dates back to the era when my grandmother presented herself at Texas’ Eagle Pass border crossing, remanded as an orphan to her nearest relatives in San Antonio,” Castro wrote in a post on Medium announcing his immigration policy platform. “That decade — the 1920s — the U.S. government moved to cut off a wave of Mexican immigrants like her.”
“This shift to criminalize immigration is at the core of many of this administration’s most egregious immigration policies — from family separation to indiscriminate ICE raids to targeting asylum seekers,” he added. “It also underlies some of this administration’s most damaging rhetoric that vilifies immigrants and families.”
Unraveling over 90 years of immigration policy will be no easy feat and would require action from Congress, but Castro is optimistic, signaling to Vox that he thinks there is bipartisan appetite for an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system.
Another ambitious proposal from Castro’s immigration policy platform would divorce the immigration court system from the Department of Justice. Presently, the. immigration court is subject to the U.S. Attorney General’s authority, which has allowed the court to become politicized. The Attorney General sets court precedent and caseloads for immigration judges, which has ballooned under the Trump administration. Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, has routinely called for an independent immigration court as a key part of immigration reform.
While Castro has not gone as far as some progressive members of Congress in calling for the total abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), he has proposed splitting the body of ICE largely responsible for the daily arrests and detention of undocumented immigrants, Enforcement Removal Operations, under two agencies in the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. According to Castro, this will prioritize actual national security risks over ordinary, non-criminal immigrants seeking a better life in the United States. Additionally, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would be steered away from immigration enforcement and focused more on drug trafficking.
“The truth is, immigrants seeking refuge in our country aren’t a threat to national security. Migration shouldn’t be a criminal justice issue,” Castro wrote. “It’s time to end this draconian policy and return to treating immigration as a civil — not a criminal — issue.”
In order to put an end to the mass incarceration of non-criminal immigrants, Castro’s policy proposal would prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from entering into agreements with local law enforcement agencies. These agreements, called 287(g)s, effectively turn police officers into immigration agents and build mistrust between immigrant communities and the police, further endangering an already vulnerable community.
Castro also said he would create a “21st century Marshall Plan for Central America” to address the root causes of the migration crisis, though he didn’t provide additional details on what that funding would look like.
Immigration advocacy groups have responded positively to Castro’s platform, praising it for addressing the cruel practice of detaining immigrants.
“Castro’s newly published platform leads the Democratic primary debate in the right direction as he calls for a shift from mass deportation and criminalization to a framework that treats immigrants living in the United States as well as people living in Central America as the human beings that we are,” Cristina Jimenez, Executive Director of United We Dream Action, told ThinkProgress in a statement. “Castro’s call to end the for-profit detention industry and to separate the various functions of immigration enforcement agencies are the kind of creative solutions we need to see from candidates this election cycle.”
“Simply relying on old talking points for ‘comprehensive immigration reform’ is not sufficient for a community under siege or for the American people who have wanted a pathway to citizenship for immigrants and have opposed mass deportation for decades,” she added.
Pili Tobar, deputy director of America’s Voice, remarked specifically on how Castro’s plan to reorganize ICE and CBP would provide more oversight over the agency and move towards a more humane immigration system. These are “pragmatic, bold, and compassionate solutions to the issues we face with our immigration system and the current crisis at our southern border, including working with our regional partners on an orderly and just regional approach to asylum, and transferring authority for ICE and CBP to DOJ in order to hold them accountable to the highest standards of conduct,” she added.
CORRECTION: This piece mistakenly referred to the policy from the early 20th century as Section 1352. It is actually Section 1325.