Wednesday night marked the closing of the second round of Democratic 2020 Presidential debates, the final of two debates this week in Detroit. Throughout the night many issues were covered, from healthcare to climate change, but none was more shocking than the candidates' responses to immigration questions posed by the CNN moderators.
Again, learning from their performances during the debates last month, many candidates took time last night to walk back, revise, and clarify some of their more radical approaches to fixing America's broken immigration system, others took the night as an opportunity to double down on their open border policies. Below are excerpts of each candidate's statements on the topic of immigration, they are listed in the order by which the candidates responded during the debate.
Moderator Don Lemon, host of "CNN Tonight", began the immigration section of the debate by asking Julian Castro "you think it should no longer be a crime to cross the U.S. border illegally. President Obama's homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, whom you served with, says that is a public declaration that the border is, quote, "effectively open to all." How is he wrong?"
Julian Castro, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama, responded:
Open borders is a right-wing talking point, and frankly, I'm disappointed that some folks, including some folks on this stage, have taken the bait. The only way that we’re going to guarantee that we don’t have family separations in this country again is to repeal Section 1325 of the Immigration Nationality Act. That is the law that this president, this administration is using to incarcerate migrant parents and then physically separate them from their children. My immigration plan would also make sure that we put undocumented immigrants who haven't committed a serious crime on a pathway to citizenship, that we do a 21st century Marshall Plan with Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, so that we can get to the root of this challenge so people can find safety and opportunity at home instead of having to come to the United States. That's how we can be smarter, more effective, and more humane when it comes to immigration policy.
Michael Bennet, the current Senator from Colorado, when asked for his response to Castro's claims added:
I disagree that we should decriminalize our border. I was part of the Gang of Eight that wrote -- I wrote the immigration bill in 2013 with John McCain that passed the Senate with 68 votes, that gave a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people that are here, that would pass the most progressive DREAM Act that had ever been conceived, much less passed on the floor of the Senate, and had $46 billion of border security. Every single Democrat voted for that bill and a lot of Republicans. That should be our position. That is our position as Democrats.
After a short statement from Sen. Harris defending her stance that no one who illegally crosses the border should be charged with a crime, Sen. Bennet continued:
I think this is one in the end that we agree with. There’s not a single person on this stage if we were president would ever separate a child from their parents at the border. And that is what this administration has done in the American people's name. They have turned our border into a symbol of nativist hostility.
Kirsten Gillibrand, the current Senator from New York stated:
So I think when you talk about whether this should be a crime, you have to remember who we're talking about. When I was at the Texas border, I visited with women who had fled violence. That's why she fled. Another woman was raped. That's why she fled. So this is who we're talking about -- and they're not criminals. So I believe that we should have a civil violation. No president before President Trump enforced the law in the way he has enforced it. Because he's using it as the crutch to lock up women and children, to separate mothers and babies, to put them behind bars. So I don't think we should have a law on the books that can be so misused. It should be a civil violation and we should make sure that we treat people humanely.
Don Lemon then asked former Joe Biden, "in the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly 800,000 immigrants were deported, far more than during President Trump's first two years. Would the higher deportation rates resume if you were president?"
Joe Biden, the former Vice President to Barrack Obama stated:
The fact is what the senator from New York talked about is seeking asylum. That woman, the women she spoke to are entitled to asylum. That is not crossing the border illegally. What we should do is flood the zone to make sure we have people to make those decisions quickly. With regard to the secretary's point, I already proposed and passed $750 million for Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, to be able to change the circumstance why people fled in the first place. In addition to that, we're in a circumstance where if in fact you say you can just cross the border, what do you say to all those people around the world who in fact want the same thing to come to the United States and make their case, that they have to wait in line. The fact of the matter is, you should be able to -- if you cross the border illegally, you should be able to be sent back. It's a crime.
Secretary Castro then added:
First of all, Mr. Vice President, it looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one of us hasn't. My immigration plan would also fix the broken legal immigration system because we do have a problem with that.
Vice President Biden then interrupted Secretary Castro, stating: "I agree."
Secretary Castro continued:
Secondly, the only way that we're going to guarantee that these kinds of family separations don't happen in the future is that we need to repeal this law. There's still going to be consequences if somebody crosses the border. It's a civil action.
Tulsi Gabbard, was then given a chance to respond, she stated:
Our hearts break when we see those children at these detention facilities who've been separated from their parents, when we see human beings crowded into cages is abhorrent, inhumane conditions. This is about leadership and understanding that we can and should have both secure borders as well as humane immigration policies. We will have to stop separating children from their parents, make it so that it’s easier for people to seek asylum in this country, make sure that we are securing our borders and making it so that people are able to use our legal immigration system by reforming those laws.
Andrew Yang, a businessman from New York, added:
My father immigrated here as a graduate student and generated over 65 U.S. patents for G.E. and IBM. I think that's a pretty good deal for the United States. That's the immigration story we need to be telling. We can’t always be focusing on some of the -- the -- the distressed stories. And if you go to a factory here in Michigan, you will not find wall-to-wall immigrants; you will find wall-to-wall robots and machines. Immigrants are being scapegoated for issues they have nothing to do within our economy.
Don Lemon then turned his attention to Sen. Booker, asking "you have a plan that would, quote, "virtually eliminate immigration detention." Does that mean that the roughly 55,000 migrants currently in detention would be released into the United States?"
Corey Booker, the current Senator from New Jersey responded:
No, Mr. Vice President, we are not going to just let people cross the border. An unlawful crossing is an unlawful crossing, if you do it in the civil courts, or if you do in the criminal courts. But the criminal courts is what is giving Donald Trump the ability to truly violate the human rights of people coming to our country, who no one surrenders their human rights. And so, doing it through the civil courts means that you won't need these awful detention facilities that I have been to; seeing children sleeping on pavement, people being put in cages, nursing mothers, small children. This is not necessary. If they have no justifiable reason to be here, they are returned. If they are, like the people I met in Juarez, who were survivors of sexual assault, who we wouldn't even let come and present for asylum. We are butchering our values and making ourselves less safe.
Joe Biden was given a chance to respond:
I agree with the Senator. The asylum process is a real process, and this president is ruining it. It has nothing to do with that section of law. That's what he's doing, number one. Number two, we should in fact - and we had proposed and we tried to get passed in our administration, I proposed, significantly increasing the number of legal immigrants who are able to come. This country can tolerate a heck of a lot more people. And the reason we're the country we are is we've been able to cherry-pick from the best of every culture. Immigrants built this country. That's why we're so special. And by the way, anybody that crosses the stage with a PhD, you should get a green card for seven years. We should keep them here.
Jay Inslee, the current Governor of Washington added:
I think we're missing two central statements we need to make. Number one, we can no longer allow a white nationalist to be in the White House, number one. And number two - number two, we have to make America what it's always been, a place of refuge. We got to boost the number of people we accept. I'm proud of being the first governor saying send us your Syrian refugees. I'm proud to have been the first governor to stand up against Donald Trump's Muslim ban. I'm proud to have sued him 21 times and beat him 21 times in a row. I'm ready for November 2020.
Bill DeBlasio, the current Mayor of New York City, added:
It's all kind of charade because there are 11 million people here, and everyone, in theory, has broken the law, but they're part of our communities now. They're part of our economy. They're our neighbors. Why are we even discussing on one level whether it's a civil penalty or a criminal penalty, when it's an American reality?
Don Lemmon then turned back to Congresswoman Gabbard asking, "you are a co-sponsor of the College for All Act which would make public colleges and universities free for all Americans. One of the authors of that plan, Senator Sanders, believes college should be tuition-free for undocumented immigrants as well. Do you?"
To which Tulsi Gabbard, a current Congresswoman from Hawaii, responded:
I don't. I think it's important for us to fix our legal immigration system and look at the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country who have been suffering as they've been living in the shadows. And instead of putting a band-aid on this problem, fix our legal immigration system to provide them with that pathway to legal residency or citizenships, that they are no longer treated as second-class citizens in this country. We've got to look at the challenge that people all across the country are facing, under crushing student debt.
Finally, Sen. Booker rounded out the immigration section of the debate by attacking Vice President Biden with the statement:
Well, a couple of things. First of all, Mr. Vice President, you can't have it both ways. You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can't do it when it's convenient and then dodge it when it's not. And the second thing that this really irks me because I heard the vice president say that if you got a PhD., you can come right into this country. Well that’s playing into what the republicans want, to pit some immigrants against other immigrants. From are from shithole countries and some are from worthy countries. We need to reform this whole immigration system and begin to be the country that says everyone has worth and dignity and this should be a country that honors for everyone. Don't let the republicans divide this party against itself.
For a full transcript of the immigration section of Wednesday's Democratic Debate, please click here.
Updated: Thu, Aug 15th 2019 @ 12:50pm EDT