Elizabeth Warren’s immigration proposal goes much further than a pathway to citizenship

Warren’s comprehensive immigration proposal, explained.

Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) calls for decriminalizing crossing the border without papers, reducing immigration detention, and increasing funding for aid to Central America in her campaign’s newly unveiled comprehensive immigration platform.

At a League of United Latin American Citizens event in Milwaukee, where 2020 hopefuls Julián Castro and Sen. Bernie Sanders were also in attendance, Warren released a proposal that unsurprisingly serves as a clear rebuke of President Trump’s immigration agenda.

Five 2020 Democratic candidates — Warren, Castro, Beto O’Rourke, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, and Sen. Cory Booker — have now put out immigration proposals. All of them call for reversals of Trump’s most controversial immigration policies, and Warren’s is no exception: As the administration teases plans for mass immigration raids in the coming days, her plan proposes protecting schools, medical facilities, and courthouses from immigration enforcement and ending programs that allow local law enforcement to be deputized as federal immigration officers.

Amid reports of unsafe and unsanitary conditions in immigration detention centers along the southern border, Warren’s plan seeks to pare back detention overall and eliminate private detention facilities.

As the administration clamps down on asylum seekers and refugees, Warren is pledging to admit six to eight times as many refugees as Trump has in her first years as president, and to implement proposals that would make it easier for asylum seekers to get a day in court.

And as millions of undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children live in legal limbo as the administration sunsets the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program, Warren is calling to expand the program for DREAMers and their families, as well as those with Temporary Protected Status.

Of course, all this would face an uphill battle in Congress — and would likely be dead on arrival if Republicans keep control of the Senate.

Sen. Kamala Harris, who has not yet released a full immigration policy proposal, recently proposed enacting a path to citizenship through executive order. Warren is not doing that. But she says that on some fronts, including ending separation and making it easier for undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status, she’s willing to work around Congress.

“I’ll work with Congress to pass broad-reaching reform, but I’m also prepared to move forward with executive action if Congress refuses to act,” she said in the Medium blog post announcing her plan.

Warren’s immigration plan, broken down

Warren’s plan goes much further than what Democrats have largely rallied around in Congress; the Dream and Promise Act, a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants who came to the US as children, as well as immigrants with temporary humanitarian protections. House Democrats passed that piece of legislation in June. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have been working on their own immigration bill to address family separation at the border, invest in aid for Central America, and ease the asylum-seeking process.

But Warren’s proposal pushes the envelope on liberal immigration policy in a way that echoes Castro, who early in the cycle changed the national conversation from legalization to radically restricting enforcement. So much so, that according to Castro’s campaign aide Natalie Montelongo, when Castro complimented Warren on her proposal after the LULAC conference, she responded with, “Well, it has a lot of Castro.”

Here’s a breakdown of what Warren is calling for:

Enforcement

  • At the forefront is a push to make illegal entry and reentry after deportation into the United States a civil offense, not a criminal one — reversing a law that has been on the books for decades but that was rarely enforced until the George W. Bush administration, when criminal prosecution of unauthorized immigrants for illegal entry became increasingly common. It’s a position Castro first adopted and then pushed other Democratic 2020 candidates to endorse as well.

Migrants who enter the US without papers would still be committing a crime, and they could still be deported. But as Dara Lind explained for Vox earlier this year, making crossing the border without papers a civil offense would have big ramifications, including ending the practice of family separation. “The Trump administration’s attempts at ‘zero tolerance’ prosecution of illegal entry were the legal basis for its widespread separation of families in 2018: Children were separated because their parents were being transferred to criminal custody for prosecution,” Lind writes.

  • Warren also says she would get rid of government contracts with private detention facilities, and cut down on the use of detention for migrants awaiting their day in court altogether. She cited Vox’s reporting on alternatives to detention facilities, including electronic monitoring and social work monitoring, in identifying programs she’d invest in.
  • Warren, like former O’Rourke, proposes making immigration courts independent, removing the attorney general’s to overturn judges’ rulings. She also is calling for a public defender program so immigrants can have counsel in court.
  • She’s also proposing to reshape Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, focusing the agencies’ efforts on screening cargo, identifying counterfeit goods, and preventing smuggling and trafficking, and ending the program that allows local law enforcement to be deputized as immigration deportation forces.

Legalization

  • Warren calls for reinstating DACA and expand the program to include anyone brought to the United States under the age of 18. She also wants protections for families of DREAMers and some workers. Unlike Harris, who proposed using executive authority to provide a pathway to citizenship for these immigrants, Warren said she would work with Congress.
  • She also pledges to admit 125,000 refugees in her first year as president, and 175,000 per year by the end of her first term. (Trump capped refugee admissions at 30,000 in 2019.)
  • And she’d reverse Trump’s restrictions on those seeking asylum to again include victims of gang violence and domestic abuse, and end the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which the administration has used to require asylum seekers to wait on the other side of the border to have their cases heard.

Warren is also calling for more support for legal immigration, including redistributing unused visas to address the millions currently in the backlog waiting for a way to enter the United States, and lower barriers to naturalization — like application fees — facing green card holders.