Julian Castro Set the 2020 Standard for a Conversation on Immigration Reform

Democrats are in the early stages of a conversation about the various policy proposals being put forward by 2020 presidential candidates. As that process unfolds, one of the things that has been encouraging to see is that, for the most part, they are not crafting those policies with an eye toward concern about how Republicans might respond. Perhaps that has been the lesson learned from years of watching the entire right wing propaganda machine mischaracterize anything they ever put on the table for consideration. As a result, almost every policy proposal we’ve seen so far—whether you agree with it or not—has been direct, clear, and authentically articulated.

In that spirit, Julian Castro has become the first 2020 candidate to release a plan for comprehensive immigration reform. In a piece he wrote to introduce it, he began by telling the story of his own grandmother’s immigration to this country from Mexico. Responding to the kind of cruelty we’ve witnessed in Trump’s family separation policy, Castro articulates the framework for a new approach.

The president’s failure in this defining moment was complete: It was a failure of leadership, a failure of policy, and a failure of conscience. But those all stemmed from an original and foundational failure: a failure to understand that despite the rhetoric, when we see families seeking refuge, we don’t see criminals, or an invasion, or a threat to national security.

We see kids. We see parents. We see people.

We see people first. Because we are people first. And it’s time for an immigration policy that puts people first.

That is why he titled his proposal, “People First Immigration Policy.” Especially given what we’ve been subjected to over the last few years, it includes some bold ideas to both roll back what Trump has done and move forward on addressing the issues.

First and foremost, Castro proposes to create a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, including Dreamers and those currently in this country under Temporary Protected Status.

In terms of Trump’s policies, he would:

  • Rescind the Muslim ban,
  • Reverse the cuts to refugee admissions,
  • End 287(g) cooperation agreements between federal immigration enforcement agencies and state and local entities,
  • End border wall construction, and
  • Reverse guidance by Attorney General Sessions that prohibited asylum claims on the basis of credible fear stemming from domestic or gang violence.

It is in new initiatives where Castro demonstrates a bold approach. For example, he is proposing to repeal Sections 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which is what made crossing the U.S.-Mexican border a criminal rather than civil violation. Castro writes:

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. The widespread detention of these individuals and families at our border has overburdened our justice system, been ineffective at deterring migration, and has cost our government billions of dollars.

In addition, Castro proposes reforms to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the establishment of a 21st Century Marshall Plan for Central America focused on stabilizing the nations that are the main sources of migration to the United States.

What Castro has done is lay the groundwork for the conversation Democrats will have on the issue of immigration reform. In the process, he set the bar pretty high for the other candidates when it comes to this issue by being both bold and comprehensive.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.