Beto O’Rourke called out former President Barack Obama’s immigration practices at a forum of women of color activists Wednesday at Texas Southern University in Houston.
When an audience member at the She the People presidential forum shouted out a question about whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should be disbanded, former Texas Rep. O’Rourke criticized not only the “practices under this president,” meaning Donald Trump, but also those carried out by his predecessor.
“I think in one year alone in the previous administration [there were] 400,000 deportations from inside the U.S.,” O’Rourke said, referring to the 409,849 ICE deportations under Obama’s administration in 2012. “Some people who had been here for decades, who posed no threat to their families, to their communities, in fact in any way that you can measure, are contributing far more than they are ever taking."
"We don’t need those internal roundups and deportations and enforcement," O'Rourke added.
“We do need to make sure that anyone who threatens the lives of our fellow Americans or has used violence, that there is accountability.” he continued. “But I want to make sure we include everyone in the solution to our challenges: economic, security, safety, democratic or otherwise. And having these ICE internal operations is not the way to do it.”
“So under an O’Rourke administration will ICE exist? Yes or no?” asked forum host and MSNBC correspondent Joy Reid.
“Yes,” said O’Rourke. “It will, but it will not employ those practices that we've seen not just under this administration but under the previous administration.”
Obama expanded ICE powers to find, arrest and deport unauthorized immigrants. Between 2009 and 2015, his administration deported over 2.5 million people.
During Obama's last year in office, his administration carried out nationwide waves of family deportation raids. Democrats lashed out in response and likened Obama to then-Republican candidate Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders criticized his administration’s implementation of the Priority Enforcement Program, which helped ICE work with state and local law enforcement to identify and deport immigrants.
On Wednesday, O’Rourke also criticized the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy, which led to the separation of nearly 3,000 children from their families in 2018.
“We were taking children from their mothers and fathers after having completed more than a 2,000-mile journey, fleeing the deadliest places on the planet today trying to follow our own asylum laws, and I would argue being illegally blocked, and rejected and arrested and caged by this president and administration,” he said.
Asked if those who have carried out the family separations policy should face punishment, O’Rourke responded, “Where people broke the law.”
“There have to be consequences for people who rejected asylum seekers who were lawfully trying to present themselves at our international ports of entry with not a penny to their name, fearing for their lives and the lives of their kids,” he said.
“They turn themselves in seeking refuge from and shelter from a country of refugees and asylum seekers,” he continued. “And to be met not with salvation, but your worst nightmare: that child torn from your arms by force, put into a cage, you deported back to the very country from which you fled. Yes, there has to be consequences for those kind of actions.”
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