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Foresight 2020: Immigration

Activists from Yakima Immigrant Response Network hold a banner and chant in support of detainees as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees are loaded onto a Swift Air charter flight in Yakima, Washington.
Activists from Yakima Immigrant Response Network hold a banner and chant in support of detainees as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees are loaded onto a Swift Air charter flight in Yakima, Washington.

President Donald Trump has transformed immigration policy since he first took office — from phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (an effort which has been held up in court), to promising a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, to the separation of migrant families detained at the border.

Democratic presidential contenders have prioritized undoing many of those changes. But they disagree on the best approach.

Some want to decriminalize border crossingsSome want to end the majority of deportationsSome want to increase border security funding. And some want to increase legal immigration to the U.S.

How do the candidates converge and diverge on their immigration proposals? And what does their rhetoric suggest about who they’re trying to reach, and who’s listening?

Our guests helped break some of the specifics down, and we started with Democrats. The following is based on comments our expert panel made during the show, is edited for length and clarity.

What is the significance of immigration policy for voters in 2020?

Nicole: For Democrats, there hasn’t been much discussion of their immigration policy within the debates. That might be because the Democratic Party is trying to avoid that conversation, and instead focus on bread and butter issues. However, we have seen some candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Obama housing secretary Julián Castro (before he dropped out) propose decriminalizing border crossings. Right now, people who cross the border could be tried and placed in federal prison.

Is immigration more of an animating issue on the right or left?

Nicole: Democrats have united on opposing many of Trump’s immigration policies like family separation and the travel bans, but we’re seeing it more so on the Republican side with President Trump using the rhetoric of dangerous criminals coming into the country during his campaign rallies.

Can you tell us how policy has changed?

Teresa: It’s important to categorize the changes in three areas. First is the travel ban, which after three iterations, the Supreme Court is allowing into place. President Trump has also changed the priorities for enforcement of immigration law within the country. Thirdly, the border policy has changed on court proceedings, especially with regard to the crossings and the presence of unaccompanied children.

Where do the Democratic candidates stand on providing a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and those with temporary protected status? 

Teresa: Mostly, they would restore DACA protections for immigrant youth through executive action and comprehensive legislation. 

Where do the candidates stand on deportation?

Teresa: The more moderate candidates are looking at reprioritizing who would be subjected to deportation. And a lot of this has to do with what they want to do with the agencies. Some have proposed a restructuring of ICE and CBP, while others have proposed abolishing these agencies.

What about abolishing ICE?

Teresa: It’s not a mainstream view for Democrats or Americans so it will be interesting to see how this position will shift.

What would it mean to decriminalize border crossings?

Nicole: Right now, if you cross without authorization, that could be treated as a crime, and the Trump administration has taken that to prosecute people in federal court. To decriminalize it would instead be treated as a civil violation.

Teresa: These types of proposals wouldn’t change deportations but what it would do is stop prosecutions that would impact people’s future records.

Where do Democrats stand on securing the border?

Nicole: It’s a mistake for Trump to paint all Democrats as fighting for open borders. None of them are saying that. However, they are trying to stop drug imports and human trafficking at the border.

Text by Héctor Arzate.

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5

Kathryn Fink
Kathryn Fink is a producer with NPR's All Things Considered.