Immigration reform has become an embedded principle of the democratic platform. With this coming 2020 election cycle it has become one of the top debated issues. Invariably, all democratic candidates are in favor of creating a path to legal citizenship for undocumented immigrants. But the real question may be to find a practical solution because current estimates by the Counsel on Foreign Relations lists undocumented immigrants in the United States at roughly 11 million people. In the past there was a concerted effort to pass immigration reform that would have provided a path to legal citizenship for children who came to the United States known as the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM) and the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA). These proposed reforms were part of the 2001 immigration reforms that showed bi-partisan favorability. Its original authors were both longstanding members of the Republican and Democratic parties. However, in December 2010 with a Republican senate majority the proposal died which had garnered nearly 55 of the 60 votes needed to pass.
The thoroughgoing of the Trump administration has shown no restraint terminating almost all legal programs like DACA, TPS, and DED that protected undocumented immigrates. The POTUS mass deportation and detention polices have risen to the level of a humanitarian crisis. According to various reports over 20 people have died in these detention centers since 2010. An official report provided by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) includes a total of 12 fatalities, with 3 deaths occurring in 2019. There are also reports of rampant pedophilia and sexual abuse in these detention centers. In 2019, the newly elected democratic House majority passed the DREAM and Promise Act. It was reintroduced by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard with the purpose to mitigate the efforts of the Republican and Trump administrations campaign against undocumented immigrants. But it is still unclear what the majority Republican senate and executive branch will do in response. The bill may have to go through several reiterations before it can pass. The Trump administration has continued its campaign against illegal entry. The United States Border Patrol (USBP) has undergone several expansions, its latest in 2017 was perhaps its biggest. Its annual budget grew to just over 3.5 billion. Trump has also issued an order that the USBP hire an additional 5,000 agents. The debate over boarder protection and public security is still a controversial issue amongst Americans and its political leaders. Yet, is this solving the problem or is there a more pragmatic solution?
A pragmatic solution to ratify immigration reform was presented by democratic representative Julian Castro, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development for the Obama administration. Sec. Castro proposes to make illegal immigration a civil violation by repealing section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality act. This is not an argument for open borders. In-fact, the repeal of 1325 does nothing to reduce boarder security. It would instead re-focus its efforts towards criminal activity such as drug, armament, and human trafficking. We should also clarify that section 1326, that outlines illegal re-entry, would still remain a criminal offense. Any person re-entering the United States illegally would still likely be detained and further charges brought against them. First time offenders may be detained and questioned but would be held briefly for processing then referred to a social worker with a later court date. To put it simply, the proposal put forward by Sec. Castro is to change the statute of undocumented immigration from a criminal offense to a civil violation. As it stands, it is a misdemeanor crime to overstay your visa. But if we could make illegal immigration a civil violation then that would give the jurisdiction over to the Civil courts instead of the Criminal courts, where criminal prosecution of families leads to harsh detention and family separation. An alternative solution would be to instead issue penalties, provide incentives, and deny benefits until undocumented immigrants correct their legal status. With this ratification the United States could still enforce immigration laws while magnanimously maintaining a more humane and compassionate front.
It is a common misnomer to believe that Civil courts are only involved in cases heard between two parties or corporations. State and local government agencies are customarily involved in Civil court disputes. These cases can range from a denial of public benefits, property disputes, civil rights violations, and disputations with unions. It should also be noted that the proposal Sec. Castro is advocating for would still retain injunctions for deportation procedures for undocumented immigrants who are found to be non-compliant and that have past criminal convictions. But it would also include a substitute amendment that outlines the policies and procedures that protect their legal rights to ensure fair due process of law in cases of such consequences.
Roybal-Allard. L., (2019). H.R.6 – American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 Retrieved from https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/6/text
Felter. C., Renwick. D., (2019). The U.S. Immigration Debate Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-immigration-debate-0
“ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) makes official notifications to Congress” (2019). Death Detainee Report Retrieved from https://www.ice.gov/death-detainee-report
Castro. J., (2020). People First Immigration Retrieved from https://issues.juliancastro.com/people-first-immigration/