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2020 Elections: Here Are the Democratic Candidates’ Immigration Plans


Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign will likely focus on extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric with the hopes of dividing and distracting voters. This is his go-to strategy despite its serious track record of failure. His xenophobia has not only backfired electorally — it has also backfired as policy. The last two years of his Administration have been a testament to the fact that a cruel and deterrence-based anti-immigrant approach solves no problems and only makes situations worse.

The American people can see clearly that Trump is flailing. A poll from CBS found that 60 percent of Americans disapproved of Trump’s handling of immigration — an issue which is supposed to be his touchstone. Last year, Gallup found that a record-high 75 percent of Americans say that immigration is a good thing, with the positive support for immigrants holding a  solid majority in numerous polls.  Gallup also found that 81 percent of Americans support creating a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. — 66 percent of whom have lived in the U.S. for over a decade.  

In contrast to Trump and more in-line with the majority of the American people, all of the 20+ Democratic candidates vying to go up against Trump in 2020 support a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who call America home. We’ve been keeping tabs on what the Democratic candidates have been saying on immigration during the campaign here.  A few of those campaigns have gone into further detail and released specific immigration plans and proposals, which we’ll explain below.

To date, four of the Democratic candidates: former Mayor Julián Castro, Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), have put out some sort of immigration proposal. We’ll be updating this blog as other candidates do the same.

Shared calls for reform

Julián Castro’s People First Immigration” plan, Beto O’Rourke,  In Our Own Image” plan, and Jay Inslee’s America’s Promise” plan have their differences, while sharing a number of the same common-sense reforms. The plans include a mix of executive actions, broad reforms, and plans to build regional partnerships.

All three plans call for reversing Trump’s executive actions on immigration. They include restoring DACA, TPS, and DED protections; rescinding the Muslim and Refugee ban; re-establishing the Central American Minors program, which helps young people apply for asylum; ending family separations at the border; ending asylum “metering”, and removing the “Remain in Mexico” policy.

All three plans call for a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. And they make similar calls to eliminate for-profit immigration detention, in part by prioritizing alternatives to detention like the Family Case Management Program.

While all three plans call for increased regional partnerships in central America, they each differ in scope.  

Julián Castro

Former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro, the only Hispanic candidate in the running, was the first candidate to release a detailed immigration proposal, and he’s put his “People First Immigration” plan at the forefront of his campaign. In addition to the above, Castro’s plan would revamp the visa system with a focus on family reunification, end discrimination for LGBT families, increase the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. per year, and strengthen labor protections for guest workers.

Part of Castro’s reform package also seeks to bring about significant reforms to immigration enforcement and detention. Castro plans to reorganize CBP and ICE, end immigration raids at or near sensitive locations (such as churches and schools), and rescind 287(g) agreements with local police forces — thereby returning immigration enforcement solely to the federal government.

In an attempt to create a more fair and independent system, Castro’s plan would terminate the 3 and 10 year immigration bans; allow deported veterans to return to the U.S.; shield victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking from deportation; and remove immigration courts from the purview of the DOJ, giving them the independence that other courts are granted.

Castro wants to make unauthorized crossing a civil rather than a criminal violation, by repealing Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. “This provision has allowed for separation of children and families at our border, the large scale detention of tens of thousands of families, and has deterred migrants from turning themselves in to an immigration official within our borders”, said Castro.

The last big change Castro proposes is a “21st Century ‘Marshall Plan’ for Central America,” referring to the massive U.S. investment in and partnership with seventeen nations to rebuild after WWII. Castro hopes the long-term investment will reshape the region into a better economic partner and undo the dangerous and desperate conditions that create refugee crises.  

Beto O’Rourke

Rep. O’Rourke represents a border district in El Paso, Texas, and his “In Our Own Image” plan directly takes Trump to task for his anti-immigrant agenda.  He’s written about the divisiveness of Trump policies and how un-American they are: “the current administration is pursuing cruel and cynical policies that aim to sow needless chaos and confusion at our borders.  It is manufacturing crises in our communities. And it is seeking to turn us against each other. When this is done in our name, with our tax dollars, and to our neighbors, we not only undermine our laws, hold back our economy, and damage our security – we risk losing ourselves.”

Like the other plans, Beto’s calls for sweeping immigration reforms would require Congress to act, but he’s also said he would put the “full weight of the presidency behind passing” these reforms in the first 100 days of his presidency.  His plan would also include increases in visa caps, improvements to infrastructure at ports of entry, transparency and accountability measures for ICE and CBP, expansion of the Legal Orientation Program (LOP), and the creation of a new visa category for communities and congregations to sponsor refugees.

Beto’s plan for on developing partnerships with other nations includes working with Northern Triangle to fight violence and poverty; strengthening Mexico and Latin America’s capacity to contribute to regional security; and addressing systematic impunity, corruption, and weak institutions. He also proposes a $5 billion investment in non-governmental organizations in the region. But his plan also seeks to address the refugee crisis by working with UNHCR to expand the capacity of Mexico’s refugee system and launching a regional resettlement initiative.

Jay Inslee

Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s “America’s Promise” plan shares many of the same common-sense planks of the Castro and Beto proposals. But like the rest of his campaign, Inslee’s immigration ideas are rooted in climate change — specifically, how global warming will affect migration. “Climate change is an urgent and immediate cause of the expanding global migration crisis. It is neither a new nor small factor. Twenty-four million people on average have been displaced around the world each year since 2008 due to extreme weather events. Many others are driven from their homes by indirect climate change impacts force people to migrate in search of food, water, livelihood, shelter, or to avoid conflict”, Inslee wrote.

Like Castro’s plan, Inslee’s plan would repeal  287(g) agreements, terminate 3 and 10 year immigration bans, end immigration raids at or near sensitive locations, increase the refugee cap, and create an independent immigration court system.

And like O’Rourke’s plan, Inslee’s proposal would launch a regional refugee resettlement initiative and work with UNHCR to expand the capacity of Mexico’s refugee system. Inslee sought to draw a contrast with Trump’s extremism on immigration with his plan, writing: “Trump’s exploitation of our broken immigration system threatens to replace, in the eyes of the world,  the iconic symbol of America’s openness — the Statue of Liberty — with images of children in cages, parents snatched and deported near schools and court houses, and families seeking entry into the United States choking on tear gas. But there is a better way for our immigration system to work.”

Inslee also wants to implement “humanitarian parole”, which would bring back to the U.S. some previously deported immigrants, like U.S. military veterans and the parents or guardians of children separated by Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. Inslee also called for ending discrimination against LGBTQ immigrants, strengthening the diversity visa lottery, ending solitary confinement in ICE detention centers, and enhancing immigrants’ right to organize for labor protections.

Inslee wants to stop Trump’s wall, rescind Trump’s failed effort to defund ‘safe cities’, and remove the troops Trump sent to the southern border. His plan would also expand educational opportunities by increasing training dollars for bilingual educators and repealing bans on in-state tuition for undocumented students.

The regional approach in Inslee’s plan includes increasing funding assistance to Northern Triangle countries and prioritizing “support for locally-driven efforts to stabilize local economies and provide for sustainable livelihoods.” Additionally, Inslee would adopt the U.N. Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and create a U.N. Special Rapporteur on Climate and Security to oversee the emergence of global climate and security threats.   

Kamala Harris

While Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) has not yet put forward a comprehensive plan for immigration, she did release a detailed “Roadmap to Citizenship for Dreamers” that would provide a pathway to citizenship for some 6 million young immigrants who already call America home. Much more so than the other plans, Harris’ strategy involves executive action. Harris said that she, as president, would immediately reinstate DACA for Dreamers and expand the program, eliminating the 31-year-old age limit for first-time applicants, raising the age of entry to 17-years old, and allowing those who are 15 and under to apply for protection with parental/guardian consent. Harris’ expanded DACA would also extend the protections to a three-year term.

In an effort to keep families together, Harris’ plan would further expand protections to Dreamers’ parents. Under her plan, parents of U.S. citizens or Dreamers could apply for protections if they pass a background check and have lived in the U.S. for a specified amount of time. Other immigrants with ties to their communities would also be eligible for protections — including spouses of Dreamers; or parents with deferred or adjusted status, military service, or extended residence in the United States.  

Harris’ plan also addresses several areas preventing some Dreamers from accessing protections or being able to fully contribute to the economy. They include a “Dreamers Parole-in-Place” program, which would allow a U.S.-citizen spouse to apply for the removal of a three-or-ten-year bar, and retroactively granting work authorization to DACA recipients.