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Ahead of the First Democratic Debates, Only Three Candidates Have Released Immigration Plans

All of the 2020 Democrats want immigration reform, but so far only a few of them have described what that would entail.
Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro concludes his remarks at the South Carolina Democratic Party State Convention on June 22nd, 2019 in Columbia, South Carolina.

Julián Castro is one of three Democratic candidates who have released an immigration policy plan.

This week, when 20 of the Democrats vying for the party's presidential nomination take to the debate stage in Miami, they'll be standing 20 miles away from the country's largest detention center for unaccompanied children in Homestead, Florida. The relevance of the topic of immigration comes from more than just the debates' location: In the past week, there have been stories of the government depriving migrant children of soap; bodies of migrants have washed ashore along the Rio Grande; and President Donald Trump has continued to threaten massive deportation raids.

Almost all of the Democrats in the race have called for "comprehensive immigration reform." That's hardly a controversial stance: Few politicians, in any party, disagree that the United States needs comprehensive immigration change. The last time such reform occurred was more than three decades ago, under President Ronald Reagan in 1986. But only three of the contenders have released actual immigration policy plans.

The first candidate to unveil policies on immigration was the only Latinx in the race: Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama. Castro released his "People First" plan at the beginning of April. The proposal revolves around decriminalizing undocumented immigration. Castro calls for the end of the mass detention of immigrants who don't have criminal records beyond illegal entry (which is currently a federal misdemeanor). Castro also proposed a major rollback in Customs and Border Protection's operations to arrest people in the country's border zone.

The next Democrat to release an immigration plan was the only other Texan in the race: Beto O'Rourke, a former congressman representing  El Paso. O'Rourke's plan also proposed decriminalization measures, and, like Castro's, proposed a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented people currently living in the country. O'Rourke additionally called for targeted aid projects in Central America to address the root causes of migration, framing the mass exodus of people from violence-plagued countries like Honduras as a refugee crisis.

Finally, in mid-June, California Senator Kamala Harris unveiled her own immigration plan. Harris' plan is less comprehensive than Castro's or O'Rourke's, and does not involve any proposals for border issues. Instead, Harris focused on creating a pathway to citizenship for "Dreamers"—undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children.

It's likely that, in the coming months, other Democrats will release policy proposals on immigration. As Matt Barreto, co-founder of the polling firm Latino Decisions and a political scientist at the University of California–Los Angeles, told Time, Democrats will be expected to oppose Trump's immigration record—but to distinguish themselves, they'll need to offer new plans of their own.