Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro has become the first 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to release an immigration plan, laying out a “People First” platform that calls for, among numerous proposals, “a pathway to full and equal citizenship” for the nation’s undocumented immigrants, restructuring of unshackled federal immigration agencies, and a “21st century Marshall Plan” for Central America.
“Last year, the Trump administration told Americans that if we would just be cruel enough to separate little children from their parents, that cruelty would deter more families [from] seeking asylum at our southern border,” Castro writes in a Medium post. “It turns out this was totally wrong—both morally and factually. More families are coming. Their policy of cruelty is a failure, and we should choose compassion instead. We should choose people first.”
Among the most urgent priorities in Castro’s plan is stability for the millions of immigrants who have deep roots in this nation, but lack legal status and have been living in fear. “We need a pathway to full and equal citizenship for the 11 million people living here peacefully, and contributing to our culture and our economy,” he writes. “We must protect Dreamers and their parents, and folks under protected status who fled natural disasters, persecution, or violence. We need to revamp the visa system and end the backlog of people who are waiting to reunite with their families.”
Notably, the Washington Post reports, Castro issues “a new call to end criminal penalties for migrants entering the country without permission and a plan to remove detention as a tool for most immigration enforcement.” Re-centering people, not punishment, in immigration policy means addressing the agencies detaining and deporting them. “It’s time we reconstitute Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and split the agency in half,” Castro writes, “keeping national security functions such as human and drug trafficking and anti-terrorism investigations within the Department of Homeland Security, and reassigning the enforcement functions to other agencies as appropriate to increase oversight and raise standards.”
The administration has also wrongly believed that deterrence measures would somehow address vulnerable Central American families at the border, when in fact “short-sighted” reactions—like Donald Trump ending aid to Central American countries—will only cause more instability for families there in the long run. “Making investments in our southern neighbors boost[s] U.S. economic growth, strengthens global relationships and helps ensure that all people can find the safety and stability they seek in their home countries,” Castro said.
In a wide field of Democratic candidates, Castro is certainly making his mark by being the first to come forward with a bold and compassionate immigration plan, one that he says is guided by the immigration story of his grandmother, who came to the U.S. from Mexico as a little girl without her mother. “Even as a seventy-year-old woman, when she recounted those moments, she would cry like the seven-year-old girl she was when it happened, sobbing that she never got to say goodbye. I see her image in the children at our borders today.”