By Ginger Gibson
WASHINGTON, July 11 (Reuters) - Democratic U.S. presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren on Thursday announced a broad immigration policy that would decriminalize undocumented border crossing and end the use of privately run detention centers if she is elected president.
Warren's 22-point policy also called for creating a pathway to citizenship for current undocumented immigrants and raising the cap on refugees who can seek asylum. It includes actions she would take unilaterally in the White House and legislation she would call on Congress to enact.
"We need expanded legal immigration that will grow our economy, reunite families and meet our labor market demands," Warren wrote in a post on Medium.com announcing the plan.
"We need real reform that provides cost-effective security at our borders, addresses the root causes of migration and provides a path to status and citizenship so that our neighbors don’t have to live in fear."
Immigration has become a flash point in the Democratic contest for the nomination to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in November 2020. Trump made combating undocumented immigration a central theme of his 2016 campaign and vowed to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border to keep out immigrants.
As president, he began zero-tolerance enforcement of immigration laws, which caused mass detentions, the separation of migrant parents from their children and outcry over conditions in private migrant detention centers.
Democrats have roundly criticized Trump's detention policies. But they are divided on whether U.S. law should be changed to no longer treat undocumented border crossing as a criminal offense.
Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, joined other Democrats in calling for the change to decriminalize border crossing, saying it should remain only a civil offense.
"This additional criminal provision is totally unnecessary for border security, and for a century, it was rarely enforced," Warren wrote. "But since the early 2000s, it has been used to build and sustain a massive immigration detention complex."
She stopped short, however, of joining the liberal wing of her party in calling for eliminating Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Instead, Warren said she would completely overhaul the agency responsible for enforcing immigration laws along with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).
"I'll reshape CBP and ICE from top to bottom, focusing their efforts on homeland security efforts like screening cargo, identifying counterfeit goods and preventing smuggling and trafficking," Warren said.
Congress has been hamstrung for more than a decade by any attempt to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration plan in 2013, but that legislation never got consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives and subsequently died. (Reporting by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)