President Donald Trump has made restricting legal immigration and imposing harsher penalties on immigrants hallmarks of his administration. Do any of the 24 presidential candidates—23 Democrats and one Republican—looking to challenge Trump next year have an immigration plan?
A handful of Democratic hopefuls have release detailed immigration reform platforms. Other candidates have announced more general immigration stances or have taken other actions that offer a glimpse on where they stand and what policies we may see if they are elected president.
Last year, the Colorado Senator co-authored a proposal that would have prevented a government shutdown by giving Trump $25 billion for a border wall in exchange for protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients—or Dreamers. In 2013, he was one of the Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of Senators that devised a comprehensive immigration reform bill. That bill, which failed in the House, included:
- A path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
- Expanding the visa program for agricultural workers.
- A 700-mile border fence and about 20,000 more border agents.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has not provided a formal immigration plan since announcing his candidacy for president. However, during the last federal government shutdown, Biden criticized Trump’s border wall. He has called Trump’s decision to end the DACA program “inhumane.” For now, DACA status may be renewed, but USCIS is not accepting new DACA applications. A decision on the DACA program remains tied up in court.
In late 2017, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker was one of several Democrats who refused to support a spending bill that did not include protections for Dreamers. He sponsored a bill to prevent the Department of Homeland Security from giving personal information about DACA recipients to law enforcement. He also co-sponsored the REUNITE Act, a bill to reunite families separated at the border under the policies of the Trump administration.
Montana Governor Steve Bullock was one of 11 governors who signed a letter urging Congress to protect Dreamers. Earlier this year, he refused the Trump administration’s request to send National Guard troops to the southern border. When Bullock was the attorney general of Montana, he opposed a state law that banned undocumented immigrants from state jobs and services.
Pete Buttigieg, the Mayor of South Bend, Ind., supports the DACA program and would like to see Congress provide a path to citizenship to Dreamers. He opposes the Trump administration’s deportation policies and opposes sending American troops to the southern border. Buttigieg’s plan for immigration reform includes:
- Creating a path to citizenship for Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants.
- Increasing resources to end the immigration and asylum backlogs.
- Implementing reasonable security measures at the border.
So far, Julián Castro, a former housing secretary and former mayor of San Antonio, has released the most detailed immigration reform plan of all the candidates. Among the provisions of Castro’s plan:
- Rescind Trump’s immigration-related executive orders, visa cuts, and administration policies.
- Provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers, undocumented immigrants, those who have Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
- Eliminate the three- and 10-year bars, per-country limits for all visas, the backlog for family reunification, and the use of detention except in serious cases.
- End immigration enforcement at or near locations, such as schools, churches, and courthouses.
- Invest in infrastructure, staff, and technology to process claims and prevent human and drug trafficking at ports of entry.
- Eliminate all for-profit immigration detention and prison operators.
- Substantially increase resources for an independent immigration court system.
- Increase the caps on several visas and add another category for refugees.
- Establish an economic assistance and stabilization plan for Central America.
Bill de Blasio
As the Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio made the city a “sanctuary city,” limiting its cooperation with federal immigration authorities. He created a health-care plan for undocumented immigrants. Under his direction, New York City also sued the Trump administration when it tried to eliminate federal grants tied to cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The former Congressman from Maryland supports:
- A path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and Dreamers.
- Investing in border security, including high-tech solutions, fencing, increased security personnel, and improvements to the sports of entry.
- Reforming the guest worker visa program.
- Increasing refugee resettlement cap.
Back in 2015, the Hawaii Congresswoman, who is also a major in the National Guard, joined Congressional Republicans in supporting a bill requiring “extreme vetting” of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. She also called for suspending the visa waiver program for European passport holders in 2015.
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand states that fixing our broken immigration system and keeping families together are among her priorities. However, her website offers few details about how she would do that as president. Gillibrand has said she supports establishing a path to citizenship for Dreamers, as well as border security measures to fight terrorism, human, drug, and gun trafficking. She opposes ending the TPS program. And is opposed to for-profit prison systems for asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants. She has called for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The U.S. Senator from California co-sponsored the REUNITE Act, which reunites families separated at the border, and opposes a border wall. As president, Kamala Harris says she will pass immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, reinstate DACA and implement DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans). She would also:
- Ensure immigrants have access to legal counsel.
- Close private immigrant detention centers.
- Use more humane and cost-effective alternatives to detention.
- Increase oversight of enforcement agencies, such as Customs and Border Protection.
- Refocus enforcement on increasing public safety.
- Reverse Trump’s Muslim Ban.
- Fix the family visa backlog.
- Stabilizing Central America so that families are not forced to flee.
As Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper signed an executive order prohibiting Colorado from using resources to help implement the Trump administration’s family separation policy. He called the policy “cruel and un-American.” He also did not heed Trump’s request to governors to send National Guard troops to the southern border.
The Governor of Washington State promises to reverse Trump’s immigration policies. His immigration plan includes:
- Provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and Dreamers.
- Restore foreign aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to help stem family and climate migration from those countries.
- Allow historic levels of refugee admissions, exceeding the target of 110,000 refugee resettlements set during the Obama administration.
U.S. Senator from Minnesota Amy Klobuchar lists immigration reform as an issue on her platform. However, her platform remains short on details. Her immigration reform plan would include border security, and a path to citizenship for Dreamers. She has said she would increase the number of temporary work visas available and reform ICE.
Mayor of Miramar, Fla., and the son of Jamaican immigrants, Wayne Messam has said he supports comprehensive immigration reform, but has not provided details. He has also said a path to citizenship should be given to those who contribute to society.
The Congressman from Massachusetts says he supports comprehensive immigration reform, including measures to curb illegal immigration and providing a path to citizenship for DACA recipients.
A former Congressman and the Democratic challenger last year for the Senate seat held by Republican Ted Cruz, Beto O’Rourke’s immigration plan includes:
- Decriminalizing border crossings and only detaining individuals with criminal backgrounds.
- Supporting initiatives to stabilize Central American countries.
- Ending family separation and all funding for private, for-profit prison operators.
- Substantially increase resources for asylum seekers in the immigration court system.
- Offering an immediate path to citizenship for Dreamers.
- Working on a legislative solution to TPS and Deferred Enforcement Departure beneficiaries.
- Increasing staffing at ports of entry to reduce wait times and to better detect illicit drugs.
- Allowed children with parents in the U.S. to apply for refugee status from their home countries.
- Increase the caps on several visas and adding another category for refugees.
The Congressman from Ohio introduced legislation earlier this year to create a non-partisan commission to deal with immigration issues, including border security, infrastructure and technology, migrant detention, and the rights of refugees and those seeking asylum. He is a co-sponsor of the DREAM and Promise Act of 2019. He opposes a border wall and family separation.
The Vermont Senator offers up an immigration platform that is short on details. It includes:
- A path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants while expanding DACA and DAPA.
- Reforming immigration enforcement, including restructuring ICE.
- Ending family separation and the detention of children, as well as deportation programs and detention centers.
- Establish independent oversight of agencies within the Department of Homeland Security, including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and ICE.
The Congressman from California, who represents portions of Alameda and Contra Costa counties, has been critical of Trump’s immigration policies. However, he has not issued an immigration plan of his own. He supported the bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013, which died in the House. He has also supported legislation to protect Dreamers.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has not made immigration an issue on her platform. However, she has criticized Trump’s border wall plan and family separation policy. She has said the immigration system needs to be rebuilt and ICE should be replaced with “something that reflects our morality and that works.”
Marianne Williamson, an author and the daughter of an immigration lawyer, has an immigration plan that includes:
- Ending family separation.
- Reducing the number of detainees under DHS and ICE control.
- Closing private detention centers.
- Offering a path to citizenship for “all law-abiding, productive immigrants.”
- Reducing the cost of naturalization.
- Eliminating the three- and 10-year re-entry bar.
- Faster processing for asylum seekers.
- Expanding protection for LGBTQ immigrants and asylum seekers.
- Increasing border security through electronic surveillance and more border agents.
- Making affordable health care available to everyone including undocumented immigrants.
- Adding a new permanent resident category for undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for a substantial amount of time, pay taxes, do not have a felony conviction.
- Deporting any undocumented immigrant who fails to participate.
- Offering an 18-year path to citizenship for the new category of long-term permanent residents.
- Increasing funding to secure ports of entry, increase ICE agents, and invest in body cameras for agents working on the U.S.-Mexico border.
- Invest in technologies to more efficiently and effectively monitor the U.S.-Mexico border.
- Increase funding to immigration court to reduce the backlog of asylum cases.
- Work with Mexico on immigration and anti-drug initiatives.
William F. Weld
The only Republican challenging Trump, Bill Weld criticized Trump during the 2016 election, comparing Trump’s proposal to deport Mexican and Central American immigrants to Nazi Germany. Weld, who served as Governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997, opposes Trump’s deportation policies. He supports some form of legal status for undocumented immigrants, as well as increasing the number of H-1B visas available.