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What the 2020 Candidates Are Saying on Immigration

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Originally published March 20, 2019; last updated June 6, 2019

There are now over 20 candidates vying to go up against Donald Trump in 2020, but unlike Trump, they all support a path to citizenship for the  11 million undocumented immigrants who call America home. In 2020, this will be a stark contrast to Trump, whose go-to electoral strategy is demonizing against immigrants and implementing mass deportations. This divide-America tactic has failed Trump time and time again, but Trump and Stephen Miller clearly don’t have any other approach.

Democrats, on the other hand, have offered both a different tone and different ideas. They recognize that immigrants are interwoven into the culture of the nation and know that rational, humane solutions are the only fix. Here is some of what they have said on immigration; check back as we update this list.

Need for immigration reform

  • “An immigration system that is administered so that it is not able to tell the difference between a criminal, a terrorist, and a 12-year-old little girl is an immigration system that not only is not keeping us safer, it does not reflect our values,’” said Elizabeth Warren
  • “I believe that immigrants don’t diminish America, that they are America. That means to me that we need to have comprehensive immigration reform,” said Amy Klobuchar.
  • “Immigration laws that benefit our country is not a new idea. We are who we are as a nation because of immigration. This is our moral values. It is our economic well-being, and it’s what makes us distinctive on the planet Earth,” said Cory Booker.
  • “Part of the problem, the failure of the system right now, there is no path for people to have legal status, we have to have comprehensive immigration reform,” said Kamala Harris.
  • “We have to end the dehumanization of undocumented people. That means: ☑️a fully funded immigration adjudication system ☑️ending mass immigration raids ☑️not holding asylum seekers in detention while applications are processed ☑️ending for-profit detention centers”, tweeted Bernie Sanders.

Pathway to citizenship

  • “I believe we should create a path to citizenship and take off the burden of worrying about … deportation,” said Julián Castro
  • Amy Klobuchar said we need to bring back the idea of comprehensive immigration reform that was “a mix of things; security, money, but it was also about a pathway to citizenship,” because she said, “all we hear right now is hateful rhetoric.”  
  • “It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the smart thing to do for our economy,” said Pete Buttigieg.
  • “I believe we must bring this population out of the shadows, remove the fear and anxiety in their everyday lives, and put them on a fast, fair and inclusive pathway to citizenship,” said Bernie Sanders.
  • During his first 100 days in office, Beto O’Rourke said he “will put the full weight of the presidency behind passing legislation” to create an “earned pathway to citizenship” for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
  • “Give people a path to citizenship. The vast majority of folks we’re talking about are living a lawful life and paying taxes,” said Kamala Harris
  • “As the son of immigrants, I believe that immigrants make the US more dynamic and innovative. We should strengthen and enforce our borders, and provide a long-term path to citizenship for those who are here to make a better life for their families,” said Andrew Yang.
  • “I will continue to fight for comprehensive immigration reform that protects our borders, creates a permanent solution that provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants”, said  Elizabeth Warren.

Dream Act and DACA

  • “Let’s legalize and free the DREAMers from any fear of deportation by making them U.S. citizens in this country, and let’s go forward living our values in everything that we do, including, especially in, immigration,” said Beto O’Rourke.
  • “There’s a reason I have the sign ‘Dreamers welcome here’ outside my Senate office. Dreamers grew up here. This is the only country they’ve ever known. I will never stop fighting for Dreamers in the Senate. Let’s bring the #DreamAndPromiseAct to a vote. We owe it to them”, Kamala Harris tweeted.
  • Julián Castro said he would prioritize immigration reform including, “codifying DACA into law.”
  • “I am so proud of House Dems for passing the Dream and Promise Act, which will pave a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers & immigrants with Temporary Protected Status. Senate colleagues, it’s time for us to show that we care about immigrant communities and do the same”, tweeted Cory Booker.
  • “The House sent an important message today: we must protect Dreamers, TPS holders, & DED beneficiaries from @realDonaldTrump’s racist, anti-immigrant agenda. The Senate should pass this bill immediately”, tweeted Elizabeth Warren.  
  • “DACA recipients have parents who deserve a path to protection”, said Kamala Harris.
  • “There seems to be among people, regardless of party or geography, a real interest in doing the right thing now for Dreamers. I say that we capitalize on that . . . create the political pressure at the congressional district level to force the kind of change that we’ve been waiting for now more than 30 years,” said Beto O’Rourke.


  • “I disagree with any policy that would turn America’s back on people who are fleeing harm. I frankly believe that it is contrary to everything that we have symbolically and actually said we stand for. And so I would not enforce a law that would reject people and turn them away without giving them a fair and due process to determine if we should give them asylum and refuge,” said Kamala Harris.
  • Julián Castro said we need to reform our immigration system but said the Trump Administration “ought to follow international law and our practice, which is to allow them to seek asylum when they present themselves.”
  • “This outrageous, inhumane treatment of people being held at our border must end. Every human being has the right to basic dignity. We need moral leadership and policies to help those seeking asylum at our border”, tweeted Cory Booker.
  • “Trump is trying to make asylum seekers into criminals in order to separate children from their parents as a deterrent to legal immigration. That is unconscionable and must be stopped”, said Marianne Williamson.
  • Camila was “sent to her death,” said Pete Buttigieg, of the transgender Salvadoran woman who sought asylum in the U.S. and was murdered after being deported.
  • “The fact that [Attonery General William] Barr wants to strip asylum seekers of their right to due process violates our Constitution and our country’s values,” said Cory Booker.
  • “This is a country of immigrants, of asylum seekers, of refugees from the world over. Nothing to be afraid of, everything to celebrate,” said Beto O’Rourke.  


  • “Providing refuge for the world’s vulnerable and oppressed is a part of our nation’s heritage. It’s part of what makes our nation great,” said Pete Buttigieg.
  • “I would expand out the refugee program to include folks displaced by natural disasters and our changing climate,” said Julián Castro.
  • “Dramatically reducing the number of refugees allowed into the United States is a failure of moral leadership,” said Elizabeth Warren.
  • “The Trump administration’s war on refugees is unconscionable. We must do our share to help, through a security-vetting process, the world’s neediest people” said Eric Swalwell.
  • “The United States under President Trump has not lived up to our values and ideals. We must strengthen and expand our support for refugees fleeing war and violence and do our part in the international community to provide relief,” said Bernie Sanders.

Trump’s border wall and family separation policy

  • “The President’s deeply immoral actions have made it obvious — we need to rebuild our immigration system from top to bottom, starting by replacing ICE with something that reflects our morality and that works,” Elizabeth Warren said. “President Trump seems to think the only way to have immigration rules is to rip parents from their families, is to treat rape victims and refugees like terrorists and to put children in cages. This is ugly, this is wrong, and this is not the way to run our country.”
  • Julián Castro said we should extend “a hand of friendship, of opportunity to countries in our hemisphere – this approach is much more in keeping with our values. This is a mutually beneficial way to engage Central Americans, not a slap in the face like the wall.” Castro continued by calling Trump a failure on immigration and said: “he told us that if we would just be cruel enough to separate little children from their parents that would deter additional families from coming to our country – he couldn’t have been more wrong.”
  • “We are not safe because of walls but in spite of walls,” said Beto O’Rourke. He said that Trump’s wall would “ensure death” and that more investment on border security would take it further “past the point of diminishing returns.”  
  • “This president has separated children from their parents and called it border security. No, it’s a human rights abuse”, Kamala Harris tweeted.
  • Bernie Sanders called for a “humane border policy” and “no more snatching babies from the arms of their mothers.”
  • “At our best moments, we have not been afraid of immigrants,” Kirsten Gillibrand said. “That is not what we have seen from this President, what he has done, is inhuman and intolerable. He is separating children from families, mothers from babies and locking up people in for-profit prison companies.”
  • “Trump’s practice of arresting unaccompanied minors on their 18th birthday and placing them in adult detention centers isn’t just cruel, it violates Congressional intent. Congress has been clear on this issue: ICE is expected to place unaccompanied immigrant children ‘in the least restrictive setting available.’ That includes immigrants who turn 18 in U.S. custody,” said John Delaney
  • “Let’s keep speaking out until every single infant is out of detention in Texas and elsewhere. This cannot be who we are as a country” said Kamala Harris. “That’s not just immoral, it’s dangerous.”
  • “I will not support the building of a wall that does not make us safer,” said Elizabeth Warren. “The kind that is proposed now is a monument to hate and division. We are a better country than that.”
  • Julián Castro said Trump has given the country a “false choice…we’re always going to need a secure border and we can make investments to ensure that our border is always secure. But we can also be humane and not take children away from their mothers or their fathers.”
  • “The America I see values basic human decency. Not snatching children from their parents or turning our back on refugees at our border. Americans know that’s not right,” said Joe Biden.
  • “Holding people in detention and separating families is wrong — it permanently damages children through no fault of their own. We’re better than that” said Seth Moulton.
  • “You don’t get kids in cages at the border until you have dehumanized them in the eyes of your fellow Americans,” said Beto O’Rourke.

Central American aid

According to reporting by the Washington Post, almost all the Democratic candidates support increasing regional support in Central America to address the refugees fleeing dangerous conditions in their home countries. As we have outlined elsewhere, increased regional support is an important part of an effective, multi-pronged strategy.    

  • “I believe we need to use all the tools in the toolbox — and that includes not cutting aid to countries in Central America and instead making sure we provide the support needed so mamas don’t have to flee with their babies for their lives,” said Elizabeth Warren.
  • “I’m the only candidate to propose a 21st-century Marshall Plan for Central America that creates a lasting and mutually beneficial partnership with the people of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala,” said Julián Castro.
  • “I will restore foreign assistance funding to nations that are the source of many recent immigrants and asylum seekers, especially children and whole families fleeing persecution in their home countries,” said Jay Inslee.
  • Joe Biden said, “the cost of investing in a secure and prosperous Central America was modest compared with the cost of allowing violence and poverty to fester.”
  • “Ultimately, the only lasting way to address the issues posed by Central American migration is to help the people of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala find safety and prosperity in their home countries,” said Pete Buttigieg.  
  • “Well, the President has been the President for over two years. He had a Republican House and a Republican Senate for two years. He did not solve these problems…The American people want the President of the United States to solve problems before they get to our border,” Tim Ryan said on CNN on April 12, 2019.

Border infrastructure

  • “Let’s ensure our security not through walls and militarization, but by investing in our ports of entry where the vast majority of everything and everyone that ever comes into this country first enters,” said Beto O’Rourke.
  • “I also support an adequately resourced independent immigration judicial system to help process claims faster”, said Julián Castro.
  • “I support funding for border security, and I support fully funding our overburdened immigration court system to swiftly, fairly and humanely process asylum claims,” said Bernie Sanders.  
  • “I support resources that can better equip those serving and processing immigrants at the border with the tools necessary to not only prioritize national security, but also treat migrants and asylum seekers with the care and respect they deserve”, said Tim Ryan.
  • “We can enforce our international borders and keep our country safe without sacrificing our values, our moral leadership and billions of dollars in taxpayer money,” said Cory Booker.

Mass deportation

  • “’Deported veterans’ is a term that should not exist, and valued members of our communities should not be deported for a minor lapse in judgment”, said Seth Moulton.
  • “Without a clear priority on removal of people who pose a danger to the community or on recent arrivals, the random enforcement of immigration laws can become a tool to instill fear and to rip apart families”, said Pete Buttigieg.


  • “Do you think that you could go and spend 10 hours picking a crop in the fields of California? Do you think that you could spend 10 hours in 102 degrees, underneath the blaring sun on a roof in Texas? That is skilled labor,” said Julián Castro.

Divide and distract

  • “And when American families are barely living paycheck to paycheck, what is this administration’s response?. . . Their response is to blame immigrants as the source of all our problems. And guys lets understand what is happening here: people in power are trying to convince us that the villain in our American story is each other,” said Kamala Harris.
  • “We have a president who is a racist, who is a pathological liar, who thinks he can win by dividing the American people by the color of our skin or where we were born…We are going to do exactly the opposite. We are going to bring our people together”, said Bernie Sanders.


  • “As part of enacting a more sensible and humane immigration system with a pathway to citizenship, we should overhaul employment verification processes to ensure they are cost effective, sensitive to privacy concerns and designed to limit false positives,” said Julián Castro.
  • “I would support an E-Verify program as part of comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for all those currently working without documentation,” said Seth Moulton.


  • “No one should live in fear in the United States. No one should feel insecure or shamed in the United States. We are a country of immigrants and we will continue to be a country of immigrants long after we send Trump back to Mar-a-Lago”, said Tim Ryan.
  • “Immigrants don’t just fuel the American spirit of creativity and determination—they embody it”’ said Cory Booker.

Immigration plans from the campaigns

To date, three of the 2020 campaigns have released detailed policy platforms that outline their stance and propose the immigration reforms they would make if elected. Read about the three plans below: