MIAMI — Former Obama Cabinet official Julian Castro challenged fellow Democratic presidential candidates on Wednesday to decriminalize illegal immigration, saying jumping the border shouldn’t be enough to earn someone jail time.
Mr. Castro roiled Democrats’ first debate of the 2020 primary season with his challenge, forcing other candidates to say they’d study his proposal to repeal Section 1325 of the immigration code, which makes jumping the border a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.
“The reason that they’re separating these little children from their families is they’re using section 1325 of that act,” Mr. Castro said. “if you truly want to change the system then we’ve got to repeal that section.”
Sen. Cory Booker, another of the 10 candidates on stage, said he, too, supports decriminalizing illegal immigration, saying the problem can be handled through the civil system, where the penalty is deportation.
Others weren’t ready to go that far.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke said he’s worried about human traffickers. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she’d be open to decriminalizing, but said she, too, is worried about smugglers and other bad actors.
MSNBC journalists, who hosted the debate, asked the candidates what they would do to try to stop images like the tragic photo this week of a father and his 23-month-old daughter, from El Salvador, lying dead in the shallows of the Rio Grande.
They tried to cross the river but got sucked in.
Few candidates had specific answers other than to do more nation-building in Central America, saying they wanted to try to erase the conditions that are pushing people to leave.
These flyers depict Australia’s policy on Illegal Immigration. Much can be learned! pic.twitter.com/QgGU0gyjRS
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 27, 2019
None of them had suggestions for how to change the pull factors that draw the migrants to the U.S. and entice them to jump the border, believing — usually correctly — that they will gain a foothold here.
New York Mayor Bill De Blasio said Democrats must challenge voters on their assumptions, saying many of them blame immigrants for economic travails.
“We’re not being honest about the division that’s been fomented in this country,” he said. “The immigrants didn’t do that to you. The big corporations didn’t do that to you. The 1% did that to you”
• Stephen Dinan contributed from Washington, D.C.
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