At Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock challenged his progressive rivals’ plans to decriminalize migrant border crossings, saying the idea was “playing into Donald Trump’s hands.”
“I think this is part of the discussion that shows how often these debates are detached from people’s lives,” Bullock said. “We got a hundred thousand people showing up at the border right now. If we decriminalize entry, if we give health care to everyone, we’ll have multiples of that. Don’t take my word. That was President Obama’s homeland security secretary that said that.”
In his first debate appearance alongside his rivals for the Democratic nomination, Bullock billed himself as a candidate who had won elections in a red state, and did not mince words about who would most likely benefit if the party pursues a platform of decriminalizing border crossings.
“You are playing into Donald Trump’s hands. The challenge isn’t that it’s a criminal offense to cross the border. The challenge is that Donald Trump is president and using this to rip families apart,” Bullock said.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., fired back at Bullock.
“We need to fix the crisis at the border and a big part of how we do that is we do not play into Donald Trump’s hands,” Warren said. “He wants to stir up the crisis at the border because that’s his overall message. If there’s anything wrong with your life, blame them.”
Earlier this month, Warren proposed decriminalizing border crossings, and on Tuesday she portrayed the current law as enabling Trump’s program of family separations at the border.
“The point is not about criminalization. That has given Donald Trump the tool to break families apart,” Warren said.
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke stood by his own proposal to decriminalize border crossings.
“In my administration, after we have waived citizenship fees for green card holders, more than 9 million of our fellow Americans, free Dreamers of any fear of deportation and stop criminally prosecuting families and children for seeking asylum and refuge and for-profit detention, so that no family has to make that 2,000-mile journey, then I expect that people who come here follow our laws and we reserve the right to criminally prosecute them,” O’Rourke said.
While Sen. Bernie Sanders said he favored making migrant border crossings a civil rather than a criminal offense, he also granted that “strong border protections” would be required to make sure that such a platform would not incentivize a wave of immigration.
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg said that under his administration, “illegally crossing will still be illegal.”
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