Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Thursday unveiled her plan to overhaul the nation’s immigration system, pledging to reverse a series of Trump administration policies and authorize her Justice Department to review allegations of abuse against detained migrants.
The proposal would decriminalize crossing the border into the United States without authorization and separate law enforcement from immigration enforcement, a plan first proposed by fellow 2020 candidate Julián Castro that Warren endorsed. Warren writes in her summary of the plan that, if elected, she would first seek to pursue her agenda through legislation, but “move forward with executive action if Congress refuses to act.”
The Massachusetts senator rolled out her plan in a Medium post hours before addressing LULAC, a Latino civil rights organization, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and weeks after a public visit to a detention facility in Homestead, Florida, that is holding unaccompanied migrant children. She met there with local activists protesting the facility, waved to children from atop a stepstool that gave her a distant view inside, and denounced the practice of contracting out detention centers.
The crisis at the border has attracted national attention and unanimous condemnation of leading 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, nearly all of whom visited Homestead before and after the first round of primary debates. Warren had previously unveiled a plan to ban private prisons and detention facilities, should she be elected president in 2020.
In response to a swirl of recent reports alleging overcrowding and squalid conditions at similar facilities, Warren is pledging to hold the current administration accountable, saying she will “designate a Justice Department task force to investigate accusations of serious violations — including medical neglect and physical and sexual assaults of detained immigrants.” It would be granted “independent authority to pursue any substantiated criminal allegations.”
“We must address the humanitarian mess at the border and reverse this president’s discriminatory policies. But that won’t be nearly enough to fix our immigration system,” Warren wrote in the Medium post. “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.”
Warren, who last summer advocated for “replacing ICE with something that reflects our values,” writes in the plan that she wants to “reshape” the department, as well as Customs and Border Protection.
“(I’ll focus) their efforts on homeland security efforts like screening cargo, identifying counterfeit goods, and preventing smuggling and trafficking,” she wrote in the post. “And to change the culture, I’ll insist on transparency and strengthen the authorities of independent internal watchdogs to prevent future abuses.”
The plan would end privately-contracted detention facilities and promises that, if Warren is elected, she would “issue guidance ensuring that detention is only used where it is actually necessary because an individual poses a flight or safety risk.”
Warren also backs expanding legal immigration, raising the refugee cap, and making “it easier for those eligible for citizenship to naturalize.” She would also reduce “the family reunification backlog” and provide “a fair and achievable pathway to citizenship.”
“We need big, structural change: a fair immigration system that preserves our security, grows our economy, and reflects our values,” she wrote at the end of the proposal. “That’s good for immigrants, good for workers, and ultimately good for the United States.”