Elizabeth Warren on Thursday unveiled her plan to reform the nation’s immigration system amid a deepening crisis over detention at the southern border and a fraught debate across the country and within the Democratic Party on the way forward.
Among other things, the proposal calls for allowing more immigrants to come into the country legally, lifting the refugee cap from 30,000 under the Trump administration to 125,000 and then 175,000; a revamp of the immigration court system to establish independence from Justice Department leaders; and the creation of an “Office of New Americans” tasked with facilitating integration, including teaching English.
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Warren also calls to reverse several of President Donald Trump’s executive actions on immigration such as his travel ban (often referred to on the left as the “Muslim ban”) and the termination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
“We must address the humanitarian mess at the border and reverse this president’s discriminatory policies,” Warren wrote in a Medium post describing her plan. “But that won’t be nearly enough to fix our immigration system. We need expanded legal immigration that will grow our economy, reunite families, and meet our labor market demands.”
Perhaps anticipating criticism from the right that she and other Democrats support “open borders,” Warren said that her plan would be “a rules-based system that is fair, humane, and that reflects our values.” And in a nod to concerns from some labor unions about increasing immigration levels, Warren wrote that “[w]e should put American workers first by ensuring that workers already here get the first opportunity to fill any available positions.”
The Warren campaign said it would work with unions and companies to implement this but did not provide additional details.
Warren released her proposal ahead of a Thursday appearance at The League of United Latin American Citizens’s (LULAC) annual convention in Milwaukee. She will be appearing at the group’s presidential town hall along with primary rivals Bernie Sanders, Julián Castro, and former Beto O’Rourke.
Cory Booker, John Delaney, and Marianne Williamson are also scheduled to speak during the multi-day conference.
Perhaps the most novel part of Warren’s plan is a proposed revamp of the immigration court system. In addition to legislation to create a more independent immigration judicial system, Warren said her administration would provide access to counsel in immigration court and call for a “national-scale immigration public defender corps.”
Some parts of the proposal are similar to past Democratic ideas. Warren’s “Office for New Americans,” for example, shares parts of Hillary Clinton’s “Office of Immigrant Affairs” that she proposed in 2016 in the lead-up to the contentious New York primary against Sanders in an attempt to appeal to people of color and immigrant voters.
Warren unveiled the proposal when the politics surrounding immigration are perhaps at their most charged. Pictures of overcrowded detention centers and a damning inspector general report detailing poor conditions have stoked outrage on the left over the Trump administration’s policies. They have also prompted fierce debates within the Democratic Party as some lawmakers such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have publicly criticized party leaders for not responding with enough urgency.
The Democrats vying for the 2020 presidential nomination have also been engaged in their own disagreements on the issue. Castro attacked O’Rourke at the first debate last month because the former congressman did not support the repeal of the 1929 law that makes unauthorized crossing of the border a criminal offense (it’s already a civil offense). Joe Biden doesn’t support repeal either, telling CNN last week that “I think people should have to get in line.”
In her Medium post, Warren reiterated her support for getting rid of the statute. “This additional criminal provision is totally unnecessary for border security, and for a century, it was rarely enforced,” she wrote in her plan. “But since the early 2000s, it has been used to build and sustain a massive immigration detention complex… it’s costly and unnecessary. And under Trump, it has become increasingly abusive.”
The embrace of more lenient, pro-immigrant policies has been welcomed by the White House and Trump’s reelection campaign. The president intends to run on a hard-line immigration platform again.
“All Democrats just raised their hands for giving millions of illegal aliens unlimited healthcare. How about taking care of American Citizens first!? That’s the end of that race!” Trump tweeted during the second debate.
But Warren has become increasingly outspoken on immigration in recent weeks, attacking the no-tolerance policies of the Trump administration as un-American. Before the first presidential debate in Miami, she visited the Homestead detention facility where some children are being detained. And in a packed rally in Chicago days later, Warren whipped up the crowd with a thunderous denunciation of the Trump administration.
“No great country locks up children,” she said. “No great country separates children from their families. No great country lets profiteers make money off locking up desperate people. It’s getting worse.”