Cory Booker's Immigration Plan Focuses on Day-One Changes

The 2020 candidate's plan focuses on executive actions that could happen with or without Congress getting on board.
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Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro (left) speaks as New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren listen during the first Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, on June 26th, 2019.

Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro (left) speaks as New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren listen during the first Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, on June 26th, 2019.

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker released an immigration plan on Tuesday, declaring that, as president, he would "virtually eliminate" immigration detention. Booker is the fourth Democratic primary candidate to release a detailed plan dealing with immigration.

The plan focuses on actions Booker could make on day one of his potential presidency. It outlines how, by leveraging the executive's power over the federal bureaucracy, Booker could change the immigration system rapidly—with or without congressional approval.

The plan centers on fundamental changes to the immigration detention system. Currently, the president has broad powers to instruct Immigration and Customs Enforcement to prioritize the apprehension and detention of certain immigrant offenders over others. In the past, ICE has prioritized arresting and detaining immigrants who present a danger to the community (for instance, immigrants who have committed violent crimes). That's changed under the Trump administration. As I wrote earlier this year:

[U]nder President Donald Trump, ICE's priorities have expanded so significantly that the agency's mandate now essentially calls for it to arrest everyone it legally can—not just people who have committed violent crimes, but also mothers and fathers who have worked in the country peacefully for decades.

Booker's plan would take the country's immigration policy in the opposite direction. Instead of ICE apprehending and detaining as many people as possible, Booker would take steps to drastically shrink the number of people ICE targets. Perhaps most significantly, Booker would demand that ICE parole everyone except those who pose a flight risk or potential danger to public safety. This would dramatically decrease the number of people in immigration detention.

Booker also calls for the end of private detention contractors. Private companies currently operate more than two-thirds of the country's immigrant detention centers, which means that the majority of the country's detention space would likely disappear under a Booker presidency.

Like the plans released by former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro and former congressman Beto O'Rourke, Booker's proposal calls for the United States to address the "root causes of migration" in Central America. Castro, O'Rourke, and Booker all call for aid investments in the region—but Booker's plan, with its focus on unilateral executive action, also outlines diplomatic efforts that the Department of State could take to address violence and corruption in Central America.

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