Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) released an immigration plan Thursday that would dismantle President Donald Trump’s agenda — and fundamentally change how we decide who gets to be an American.
What would it do?
Sanders’ plan proposes a wholesale rewrite of the U.S. immigration system — everything from border security to legal status.
Sanders would seek to expand two Obama-era programs — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents — with the goal of allowing 85 percent of undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years to stay without the threat of deportation. Sanders says he would “push Congress, immediately” to pass legislation outlining a five-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, with priority status for young people; any bill Sanders signs would not reduce “traditional, family-based visas.”
Sanders says he would decriminalize border crossings. “Punitive policies have been justified as a deterrent to migration, but in addition to being morally wrong, there is no evidence that these policies have served this purpose,” Sanders says in the plan. “The criminalization of immigrants has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars, dehumanized vulnerable migrants, and swelled already-overcrowded jails and prisons.”
Sanders says he would end detention for essentially every migrant without a violent criminal conviction. The Vermont senator would fund “community-based alternatives to detention” that would give migrants access to legal resources and health care.
Sanders says he would break apart the Homeland Security Department entirely — including Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection — and distribute the responsibilities among the Justice, Treasury and State departments. He says he would extend DOJ anti-profiling guidance to border areas and eliminate the use of DNA testing and facial recognition for enforcement.
Sanders would redirect government resources toward inspecting workplaces for wage and safety violations, with a focus on immigrant-heavy industries.
And, no, he would not finish Trump’s border wall.
How would it work?
Sanders’ plan reflects a fundamental distrust in border enforcement, at least in the traditional sense. It would dismantle most of the mechanisms that previous presidents — not just Trump — have used to deter people from coming here illegally.
By itself, Sanders’ plan to eliminate criminal penalties for migrants would not stop people from being deported; many border crossings are both a civil and criminal offense, but the criminal piece was rarely used prior to President George W. Bush. Sanders takes a great leap further by eliminating detention for the vast majority of undocumented immigrants. While he proposes integrating migrants in communities, Sanders does little to explain how he would help cities shoulder the burden and provide housing (beyond saying that temporary housing would “meet humane, 21st century living standards”).
Nor does Sanders explain how he would background-check migrants as levels rise. The expansion of DACA and DAPA, for example, would require the U.S. to screen entrants’ criminal backgrounds — the programs require a clean record — but Sanders does not say how he would do that once ICE and CBP are dismantled. Sanders would likely run into the same problem trying to sift out violent criminals crossing at the border for detention.
Sanders calls for the repeal of Section 1325 of Title 8 of the U.S. Code, which makes crossing the border without undergoing an inspection by an immigration officer a misdemeanor offense. The Trump administration used the statute to justify separating families under its zero-tolerance border strategy, which split apart thousands of families in the spring of 2018. Under the policy, adults were charged with illegal entry and detained for prosecution. They were separated from their children, who were then labeled “unaccompanied.”
What do other candidates support?
The majority of Democratic contenders align with Sanders on supporting DACA and a pathway to citizenship.
Many of the other top-tier candidates, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), also support decriminalizing border crossings. Former Vice President Joe Biden is the exception, saying it should be a crime.