Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) revealed his plan on Tuesday to undo the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies as president, joining the growing list of 2020 presidential candidates supporting solutions to help migrants at the southern border.
Booker outlined a list of executive actions he would take on his first day in office to stop criminalizing immigrants, close inhumane detention facilities and end some barriers for people seeking asylum in order to end most migrant detention. He also proposed expanding access to legal counsel for immigrants, beginning with children, and restoring and expanding policies that protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program recipients and their families.
“When kids are being stripped away from their parents and held in cages, I will not wait for Congress to solve this crisis,” Booker said in a statement. “On day one of my presidency, I will take immediate steps to end this administration’s moral vandalism.”
The senator also proposed an executive action reversing President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies that have separated thousands of migrant families and directing U.S. attorneys to stop prioritizing unauthorized border crossing prosecutions unless someone poses a public safety risk. He also proposed ending the ban on travel that has largely affected citizens of Muslim-majority countries.
“Although there are limits on what we can do to reverse the damage that has already been done to the lives of thousands and to communities across our country, we can put an end to the horror, and turn the page to a new chapter of our history,” Booker said Tuesday. “Our country must have an immigration system that reflects our values, not one that strips dignity away from people fleeing danger, threats, and violence.”
The plan comes as reports continue to highlight the horrific conditions migrants are experiencing in detention facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border. More than a dozen House Democrats visited Border Patrol facilities on Monday and reported that detained women have been told to drink water from a toilet. A lawsuit by a group of attorneys detailed unsafe and unsanitary conditions for detained children.
The crisis at the border has sparked a discussion about how presidential candidates plan to tackle the topic of immigration reform.
Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro was the first Democratic candidate to roll out an immigration plan, and he challenged everyone on stage with him the first night of last week’s 2020 Democratic debates to get behind his proposal to repeal Section 1325, the law that makes illegal entry a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison and allowed Trump’s seven-week “zero tolerance” policy, which led to family separations, to happen.
All but two Democrats that debate night expressed support to decriminalize unauthorized border crossings, including Booker, who pointed out that the U.S. already has a civil system for enforcing immigration law.
The law criminalizing illegal entry first passed in 1929, though the Justice Department only began prioritizing such cases in 2005 in order to funnel migrants into federal jails in locations that lacked bed space for people detained in the civil system. After Barack Obama took office in 2009, immigration prosecutions increased to the point where they took up half the federal criminal docket, and they continued to do so through his tenure.
The trend skyrocketed under Trump, whose former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, implemented the “zero tolerance” policy to put more resources toward misdemeanor immigration prosecutions.