Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday released his comprehensive immigration plan, calling for a complete restructuring of the system through legislative action and a series of executive orders.
On day one of his administration, the candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination said, he would place a moratorium on deportations, end raids by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, stop construction of the wall on the US-Mexico border, end family separations and shutter for-profit detention centers.
Under his “A Welcoming and Safe America for All” plan, the Vermont independent indicated for the first time that he will reverse guidance from the Trump administration’s Department of Justice and permit asylum claims from those fleeing domestic or gang violence. Sanders would also overturn Trump’s so-called “public charge” rule and ensure that immigrants are not discriminated against based on income or disability, while extending temporary protected status until more permanent resolutions are in place, invalidating Trump’s efforts to end those designations.
In his proposal, Sanders expands on his support for extending legal status to the 1.8 million young people who are currently eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and pledging to provide relief to their parents, as then-President Barack Obama sought to do, by using executive authority to allow undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country for at least five years to be free from deportation.
The plan also looks to make broad, immediate and overarching changes to the current immigration system by restructuring the Department of Homeland Security. Sanders would fold ICE into the Justice Department and Customs and Border Protection into the Treasury Department.
“Putting everything in one basket under DHS has not just not worked out, and it is what has allowed Trump and company to weaponize immigration in a racist way,” Sanders senior adviser Jeff Weaver told CNN. “Instead of treating everything immigration-related the same, we break up the parts where it makes sense to do that, so given ICE’s federal law enforcement function, moving it to the Justice Department is incredibly important.”
Sanders said he would seek to strengthen immigrant labor rights by prioritizing the interests of immigrants and workers in trade negotiations. Additionally, the proposal suggests creating a whistleblower visa that would allow immigrants to report illegal actions without fear of retribution and ensure that all domestic and farm workers are paid $15 an hour.
Issues surrounding the effects of climate change, and the dislocation it causes, are central to the Sanders immigration plan. Under the proposal, the government would create a program to welcome migrants displaced by climate change and would set a goal of accepting at least 50,000 of them during his first year in office.
Joining former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who catapulted this issue onto the debate stage back in June, Sanders would downgrade crossing the border without documentation to a civil offense from a federal crime.
At a town hall in Oskaloosa, Iowa, in April, Sanders was asked if his positions on immigration meant he was for open borders.
“That’s not my thing. I think what we need is simply comprehensive immigration reform,” he said in response to an audience question. “There’s a lot of poverty in this world, people from all over the world. And I don’t think that’s something we can do at this point. That’s not my position.”
Sanders often refers to his father’s migration to the United States and how it affected his outlook and upbringing on the campaign trail.
“I know who I am and where I came from,” Sanders said at a recent rally in Minneapolis, where he appeared with Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, reprising a line from his first official campaign rally in Brooklyn, New York.
Weaver described the issue of immigration as a deeply personal concern for Sanders.
“I remember in some early, private meetings he had in 2015 with young undocumented people, he came away so moved, and the connection that was created between him and those young immigrants has really been enduring and what motivates his desire to see this inhumane immigration system to be reformed,” Weaver told CNN.
“Those meetings were some of the most personally moving for him in my time with him.”