With the separation of families and incarceration of children at the border hurling the nation into a crisis of conscience, and the current administration responding by doubling down on its “zero tolerance” immigration policy, it is unsurprising to see that 74% of people in the U.S. cite “immigration” as an “extremely important” or “very important” issue to them in the coming election. Indeed, a Gallup poll conducted in June of 2019 presents immigration as more important than ever to voters. Hence, we might ask where Democratic presidential hopefuls stand on the issue.
Unsurprisingly, all stand in opposition to Trump’s aggressive attempts to secure the border. What each offers in terms of alternatives varies widely, however. Below is a summary of the stances top candidates have taken on the most pressing issues.
Illegal Border Crossing: Criminal or Civil Offence?
Of the most contentious issues for those on the campaign trail is whether or not to decriminalize unlawful border crossings. The current statute making it a misdemeanor to cross illegally provides the basis for the Trump administration’s family separation policy. Several Democratic challengers believe this should be changed and unlawful crossings made a civil offence, though each differ their approaches.
Upon the basis that no human is illegal, Sanders believes border crossings should be civil, not criminal offences.
As president, Warren will immediately issue guidance to end criminal prosecutions for simple administrative immigration violations.
While Biden does not support decriminalizing border crossings, he claims he will enforce immigration law humanely.
Like Sanders and Warren, Buttigieg would decriminalize unlawful crossings but continue to prosecute those who unlawfully re-enter the border, commit fraud or put Americans at risk through the criminal system.
Should Physical Barriers at the Border be Extended?
President Trump’s signature campaign promise is a “big, beautiful” border wall along the Mexican border. Democratic candidates uniformly oppose this plan but disagree about whether more border barriers may be appropriate.
Sanders’ campaign states that he will, “Stop all construction of the racist and ineffective wall on the U.S.-Mexico Border” and instead focus on cost-effective, innovative method to counter drug-importation and human trafficking.
On March 18, 2019, Warren tweeted labelling the wall a “monument to hate and division” and that she would not support it.
The former Vice President has been unclear on his support for the wall but has in the past said he is inclined to add further physical barriers on the southern border.
Mayor Buttigieg has come out in support of secure borders but questions whether a wall alone can achieve this. He has advocated the use of new technologies to fortify the U.S. border.
Immigration Levels: Increase, Decrease or Stay the Same?
At present, about 1.1 million people gain a green card, or legal permanent residency in the U.S. each year. In additional, hundreds of thousand become naturalized citizens and many thousands more are resettled as refugees. The current administration would see these numbers decrease. Democrats, on the other hand, support growth, though in varying degrees.
Immigrants contribute to the strength of the U.S. economy, according to Sanders. While he does not believe there is a magic number or ideal make-up of immigrant demographics, he supports research into the subject.
Warren supports expanding immigration but is careful to insist the U.S. workers be put first. Her platform would see expansion of legal immigration coupled with greater accountability measures for employers to ensure all are treated fairly.
A proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, Biden would expand access to legal immigration by providing DREAMERs and other contributing immigrants a path to citizenship. He would also reform the asylum system.
Citing his rural economy plan, Buttigieg supports increased immigration through such proposals as the place-based Community Renewal Visa.
United in their desire to show Trump the exit, Democrats nonetheless maintain important differences regarding immigration. We hope this overview helps clarify the distinct positions being staked out by those candidates leading the field.
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