Presidential hopeful Julian Castro unveiled an extensive immigration plan Tuesday that would roll back a series of laws implemented under Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump.
Castro is the first candidate in the crowded 2020 Democratic field to unveil a detailed immigration plan, putting him out in front on an issue that Trump made central to his 2016 campaign and plans to again champion in his re-election bid.
The centerpiece of Castro’s plan provides a path to citizenship for “undocumented individuals and families who do not have a current pathway to legal status, but who live, work, and raise families in communities throughout the United States,” Castro’s campaign said in a release. It would also create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, a group often described as Dreamers, and those undocumented immigrants who are currently in the country under Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure.
“It’s time our nation’s immigration system reflect the collective values that we all share — equality, fairness, justice, and compassion,” Castro wrote in a Medium post on the plan. “It’s time that we recognize that protecting our borders and treating immigrants with compassion are not mutually exclusive.”
He added: “I’m proud to unveil an immigration policy that re-integrates those collective values in our immigration system. A policy that is sensible and fair and treats those who cross our borders in search of refuge with empathy and understanding.”
Castro’s plan is the polar opposite to what Trump has offered the United States and politically positions him as a Democratic leader on immigration.
Trump has fought for years to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border – something his supporters demand with chants of “Build the Wall” at his campaign events. Recently, the President declared a national emergency along the border to secure funds for construction of the wall, something that even Republicans rebuked him over.
In his Medium post, Castro noted other tenets of Trump’s immigration policies that he intends to change.
“The next President must start by reversing the cruel policies of the Trump administration — including the Muslim ban, wasteful spending on a pointless wall, and cuts to the refugee program — and ending the vile rhetoric that has scapegoated and vilified immigrants,” Castro writes about his plan, a direct attack on Trump.
Castro, as president, would increase refugee admissions, reunify families that have been separated at the border and allow deported veterans who served in the US military to return to the United States.
But Castro isn’t only targeting Trump-era policies.
Castro said he would repeal Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which was used by the George W. Bush administration to apply a criminal violation – as opposed to a civil infraction – to anyone entering the United States illegally. The decades-old law was used by the Bush administration to attempt to curb the number of illegal entrances into the United States, something that Castro wrote needs to end.
“This shift to criminalize immigration is at the core of many of this administration’s most egregious immigration policies — from family separation to indiscriminate ICE raids to targeting asylum seekers. It also underlies some of this administration’s most damaging rhetoric that vilifies immigrants and families,” he wrote.
Castro’s plan also reimagines enforcement along the border, including the reconstitution of Immigration and Customs Enforcement by “splitting the agency in half and re-assigning enforcement functions” within the agency.
Instead of calling for abolition of ICE – something that a number of left-leaning Democrats have demanded – Castro calls for an investigation “of ICE, Customs and Border Protection, and the Department of Justice’s role in family separation policies instituted by the Trump administration” and directs Customs and Border Protection to focus their efforts on the border, not with raids and enforcement activity in the interior of the United States.
Castro, the only Latino candidate in the 2020 presidential race, has made immigration central to his presidential argument, leaning on his personal story to do so. His grandmother, Victoria Castro, was born in the Mexican border state of Coahuila and crossed into the United States at Eagle Pass, Texas, in 1922 after her parents died during the Mexican Revolution.
“Every candidate should have an immigration plan of this caliber in 2020, but Julian is one of the only candidates in the race – and the only candidate from Texas – who has the level of moral authority to lead on this issue because of his family history and background,” said Jess Morales Rocketto, a Democratic strategist and immigration activist.
Castro, too, has pointed to his roots when discussing his candidacy.
“My family’s story is a testament to what is possible when this country gets it right,” Castro told CNN shortly after his campaign announcement.
At a forum on rural policy in Iowa over the weekend, Castro suggested that one way to increase rural population was to welcome immigrants looking to come to the United States for work. And at events around the state, Castro cast himself as the polar opposite to Trump on immigration.
“This president is asking people to choose cruelty,” he told an audience in Waterloo, Iowa. “I ask people to use compassion with a boarder that is secure.”
Castro will follow up this policy roll out with a trip to Los Angeles on Friday to headline a rally focused on immigration. He will then headline another rally in San Antonio next week, when Trump is in town for a fundraiser.