Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke announced a sweeping plan Wednesday to overhaul the American immigration system, offering citizenship to most immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, halting President Trump’s border wall and proposing a new visa for communities to sponsor would-be refugees.
Mr. O’Rourke, a former congressman, said he wants to protect millions of immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally from the danger of deportation while giving Congress the space to pass broader legislation with a full pathway to citizenship, erasing the punishment for past illegal presence.
“I think we go a lot further than really anyone in this plan,” Mr. O’Rourke said in an interview with CNN that aired Wednesday. “We stop the chaos that we have on our border right now — chaos that was imposed by President Trump.”
He did appear to soften his border wall stance.
At one point earlier this year he’d said he would consider tearing down parts of the 700 or so miles of fencing and barriers that already protect the U.S. border — including miles of barriers in his hometown of El Paso, Texas.
But he now says he would leave things up to local communities.
Mr. O’Rourke said he would end family separations at the border — though it’s not clear what he means by that. The Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, which had led to separations, was ended last year, and at this point the only separations are the one or two cases a day where authorities feel parents are a danger to children.
Mr. O’Rourke would also loosen policies to make it easier for people fleeing their home countries to seek asylum in the U.S.
His administration would also ensure there are “lawful and humane conditions” at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities, including access to medical treatment, mental health care, social workers and translators, his campaign said.
Mr. O’Rourke’s campaign also said he would issue an executive order to require detention “only for those with criminal backgrounds representing a danger to our communities.”
To solve the surge of migrants heading north from Central America right now, his plan would invest $5 billion in the “Northern Triangle” region of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
And he said for those that do come, he’ll seek ways to free them from detention.
“I think the vast majority of families and children who are fleeing the deadliest countries on the face of the planet, who are seeking asylum in this country, they don’t try to flee arrest, they don’t try to evade detection, those families pose no threats or risk to this country,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
That cuts against the advice of immigration officials, who say detaining immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally is the surest way to stem the surge.
Border Patrol leaders testified to Congress that without detention, many of the families will skip their hearings and disappear into the shadows, adding to population of immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally.
Mr. O’Rourke’s plan doesn’t go quite as far as an immigration proposal from former Obama administration official Julián Castro, who wants to generally decriminalize border crossings.
Much of Mr. O’Rourke’s plan would require action from Congress, which has tried and failed for years to pass comprehensive immigration bills.
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