Days after saying he’d support eliminating U.S.-Mexico border barriers, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke has released a 10-point plan that argues that strict border enforcement encourages illegal immigration and that calls for giving millions of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.
It was the latest signal that O’Rourke, who has said he is considering entering the 2020 presidential race, likely would make an anti-Trump immigration platform a central theme of his campaign.
O’Rourke, who served three terms in the House and unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate, says in his plan, according to the Houston Chronicle: “We made it harder for people to cross into the United States, we made it less likely that once here they would attempt to go back to their home country. Fearing an increasingly militarized border, circular patterns of migration became linear."
O’Rourke wants to give a path to legal status to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. when they were minors, and to their parents.
The plan calls for bringing "millions more out of the shadows and on a path to citizenship by ensuring that they register with the government to gain status to legally work, pay taxes and contribute even more to our country's success."
Several bipartisan efforts in Congress to advance legislation to help undocumented immigrants brought here as minors have stalled in the last decade. These immigrants, known as Dreamers, have been able to rally more support from both political parties than other groups of foreign nationals. Supporters have argued that they are living here illegally through no fault of their own and because of a decision they had no say in.
Opponents counter that giving the children of parents who brought them here illegally, or who overstayed their visas, is tantamount to rewarding people who broke the law.
In recent days, O’Rourke’s immigration views have attracted the spotlight.
During an interview with MSNBC host Chris Hayes, O’Rourke said he would take down the wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, there are about 700 miles of fencing.
O’Rourke, who came close to upsetting GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in last November’s Senate election in Texas, argued that the existing walls and fencing along the border have “not in any demonstrable way made us safer.”
Days later, as President Donald Trump held a rally in El Paso, during which he chose to deliver a speech advocating tougher border security, O’Rourke held a counter-rally, saying: “We know that there is no bargain where we can sacrifice some of our humanity to gain a little more security. We know that we deserve to, and will, lose both of them if we do.”
Trump's event, held at the El Paso County Coliseum for his first "Make America Great Again Rally" of the year, didn't identify the dueling rally nearby, in the town that sits along the U.S.-Mexico border, but the president did mention O'Rourke.
The "young man" with a "great name," "challenged us," the president said in reference to O'Rourke.
"We have, let's say, 35,000 people tonight, and [O'Rourke] has 200 people, 300 people — not too good," Trump told the crowd. It was not immediately clear how many people were at the Trump and O'Rourke's events.
Trump added, "In fact, what I would do is, I would say that may be the end of his presidential bid, but he did challenge it."
O’Rourke’s focus on immigration in a possible presidential campaign is sure to crank up the volume on longtime criticism of his history on the issue as mixed and ambiguous.
His more recent support for no fencing or walls somewhat contradicts his past statements opposing entirely open borders. O’Rourke has previously backed having them be porous enough to promote trade and immigrant culture. In an interview in 2006, he decried President George W. Bush’s proposal for bolstering the existing walls with more surveillance technology.
During his 2018 Senate campaign, O’Rourke championed the idea of abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, echoing an increasingly popular position among more left-leaning Democrats. But then he sought to clarify his position by saying that what he had meant was that he wanted to abolish “tactics that instill fear.”
His new 10-point plan still seems ambiguous, the Houston Chronicle noted, adding that he often fails to explain how he would carry out the policies he promotes.
"There's still a lot of confusion about where exactly he stands on this," said University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus to the Houston Chronicle. "He's been too ambiguous about what he would do, and his positions tend to be on multiple sides of the issue."
Other Republicans, however, give O’Rourke credit for at least being more honest about his positions on immigration than other Democrats, noted the newspaper.
"At least Beto is honest about his open border policy," tweeted U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Republican from Houston. "Most Dems claim to support a secure border while simultaneously undermining it at every turn."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.