(Bloomberg) -- Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden is starting the week of his party’s first primary debates with an early foray into immigration policy, pledging to push for reform and rebuild the U.S.’s relationships with its neighbors.
President Donald Trump’s "morally bankrupt re-election strategy relies on vilifying immigrants to score political points while implementing policies that ensure asylum seekers and refugees keep arriving at our border," the former vice president wrote in an op-ed published Monday in the Miami Herald.
Two groups of 10 Democratic presidential hopefuls will debate on Wednesday and Thursday nights in Miami, a city that often plays a central role in the U.S. immigration debate.
If elected, Biden said, “my first step will be to ensure that our policies in the Americas once again reflect our American values.” The next president, Biden said, should work to “institute effective immigration reform while restoring regional policies grounded in respect.” He said he would give legal status to so-called Dreamers, young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
Florida is the nation’s largest swing state and has picked the White House winner in every election since 1996. Trump won here in 2016, though the Barack Obama-Joe Biden ticket carried the state in both 2012 and 2008.
Trump last week launched his re-election campaign with a rally in Orlando and a new push to crack down on undocumented immigrants. The administration had threatened to begin deportation raids on Sunday, but Trump said he would postpone the action at the request of congressional Democrats.
Biden described Trump’s “build the wall” chant as “a slogan divorced from reality” that won’t stop the flow of asylum seekers, drugs and human trafficking from crossing the border.
“We need to instead focus on improving screening procedures at our legal ports of entry and making smart investments in border technology," Biden wrote. "These are sensible policies that will do more for our security than a wall ever could.”
Biden also decried family separations and the poor treatment of migrants as “action that subvert our American values and erode our ability to lead on the global stage.”
Another Democratic presidential hopeful, former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke, also plans to use his debate trip to South Florida to address immigration with a Thursday visit to a family in the city of Homestead, where unaccompanied children are held.
After years of idle warnings from Trump, the State Department last week cut off millions of dollars in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Experts argued that the loss of that financial support could further contribute to the factors that lead migrants to leave those countries for the U.S.
Biden noted that as vice president he played a role in “a major, bipartisan effort to address the root causes that push people to flee.” He said those policies were “making progress until President Trump replaced sound strategy with hostility and inflammatory rhetoric.”
Biden also ran through a series of other policy challenges in Latin America.
He warned that Trump’s “increasing belligerence” could threaten efforts to maintain a coalition that has recognized Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s president. The administration “has made every effort to capitalize politically on the Venezuelan crisis” but its denial of protected status to “thousands of Venezuelans fleeing persecution shows it cares little about the Venezuelan people’s suffering,” Biden said.
“Trump’s failures in the region are even more dangerous because China and Russia are becoming increasingly active in the Americas,” he said. “And that is before we address the simmering crises in Nicaragua, Haiti, Honduras, and elsewhere.”
By contrast, Biden said that during his time in the Obama administration, he worked on “deepening our partnerships and building relationships rooted in respect that delivered real results.” That kind of work, he said, would “be vital to repairing cooperation and addressing shared regional challenges.”
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