2020 Dem Julian Castro calls for illegal immigration to be treated as civil, not criminal, offense

2020 Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro on Tuesday called for illegal immigration to no longer be treated as a criminal matter.

“The truth is, immigrants seeking refuge in our country aren’t a threat to national security. Migration shouldn’t be a criminal justice issue. It’s time to end this draconian policy and return to treating immigration as a civil -- not a criminal -- issue,” he said.

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Castro, who has made his opposition to President Trump’s immigration policies a cornerstone of his campaign, published his proposal on Medium, which he says is a call for a policy that “puts people first.”

While that phrase is common among the Democratic field, Castro is one of the first to put meat on the bone and flesh out his vision for an immigration policy. In it, he said he would reverse the travel ban on migration from certain countries, cuts in refugee numbers and what he calls “wasteful spending on a pointless wall.”

He also joined fellow Democrats in calling for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants living in the country “peacefully” as well as protections from deportations for illegal immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

In terms of enforcement, he calls for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to be cut in half, keeping the anti-trafficking and anti-terrorism investigations, while reassigning immigration enforcement to other agencies. This taps into a growing push by Democrats since last year for the agency to be abolished.

The proposal comes as the Trump administration declares a crisis on the border, with historic levels of crossings overwhelming the system. Last week, the State Department said it would cut direct aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where much of the migration flows originate. Castro, though, said that such a move would only make the problem worse.

Instead, he called for a “21st century Marshall Plan for Central America,” referring to the post-war economic assistance plan that pumped billions into Europe.

“Making investments in our southern neighbors boost 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,” the post says.

Castro is likely to return to the topic of immigration later this month when he is scheduled to hold a rally in his hometown of San Antonio at the same time Trump is expected to appear in Texas for fundraising events.

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His plan is an indicator of not only how important immigration will be as a topic in the 2020 Democratic primary race, but also how the party is swinging further to the left on the issue.

In addition to calls to abolish ICE, a number of Democrats -- such as former Rep. Beto O’Rourke --  have even called for existing barriers at the border to be torn down.

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., as part of her call for “comprehensive immigration reform,” suggested that she wants to expand Social Security to those in the country illegally.

"First, we need comprehensive immigration reform," she said last month in Iowa. "If you are in this country now you must have the right to pay into Social Security, to pay your taxes, to pay into the local school system and to have a pathway to citizenship. That must happen."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.