Elizabeth Warren Confirms She’d Decriminalize Illegal Border Crossings If Elected President

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
July 30, 2019Politics
Elizabeth Warren Confirms She’d Decriminalize Illegal Border Crossings If Elected President
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) participate in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN in the Fox Theatre in Detroit on July 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said she would decriminalize illegal border crossings, which are currently a criminal offense, if she were elected president in 2020.

CNN moderator Dana Bash asked her about the issue during the July 30 debate.

“Senator Warren, you say the provision making illegal border crossings a crime is totally unnecessary. Please respond,” Bash said.

“So the problem is that right now, the criminalization statute is what gives Donald Trump the ability to take children away from their parents,” Warren responded. “It’s what gives him the ability to lock up people at our borders. We need to continue to have border security and we can do that, but what we can’t do is not live our values. I’ve been down to the border. I have seen the mothers. I have seen the cages of babies. We must be a country that every day lives our values.”

Warren was interrupted by Bash, who said: “Just to clarify, would you decriminalize illegal border crossings?”

democrats at debate
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) (C) speaks while author Marianne Williamson, (L-R), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, former Maryland congressman John Delaney, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock take the stage at the beginning of the Democratic Presidential Debate in Detroit, Michigan at the Fox Theatre on July 30, 2019. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“Yes,” Warren said.

“The point is not about criminalization. That has given Donald Trump the tool to break families apart,” she claimed. “One way to fix it is to decriminalize. That’s the whole point.”

Only 27 percent of respondents to a Marist/NPR poll this month said that illegally crossing the border should be decriminalized. Forty-seven percent of Democrats, 68 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Republicans thought it was a bad idea.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also said he’d decriminalize border crossings if elected, saying he doesn’t consider women and children who walked thousands of miles as criminals.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), former Rep. Robert “Beto” O’Rourke (D-Texas), and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock were among those saying they wouldn’t decriminalize border crossings.

“Right now if you want to come into the country you should at least ring the doorbell,” Ryan said.

NTD Photo
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) speaks as former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper listens during the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN in the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

O’Rourke said he will overhaul immigration policy enough that “I expect people who come here to follow our laws and we reserve the right to criminally prosecute them.”

Bullock said decriminalizing may “play into Donald Trump’s hands.”

Nine out of the 10 candidates said they’d decriminalize crossings at an MSNBC debate last month.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Sanders, Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.)—who has since withdrawn from the race, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, businessman Andrew Yang, author Marianne Williamson, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg all raised their hands to indicate they’d support the change.

Democratic presidential debate
Democratic presidential hopefuls (from L) Bill de Blasio, Tim Ryan, Julian Castro, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee and John Delaney participate in the first Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by NBC News on June 26, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) was the only one who didn’t raise his hand.

Swalwell has since dropped out of the race.

Buttigieg reversed his answer on Tuesday, saying: “When I am president, illegally crossing will still be illegal.”

“If fraud is involved, then that’s suitable for the criminal statute. If not, then that should be handled under civil law,” he added when a moderator noted that he raised his hand last month.

Candidates were also asked if their healthcare proposals would cover illegal immigrants. Sanders said his would, adding he considers healthcare a “human right.” Ryan hit back, saying that Americans pay for their healthcare and so should illegal immigrants.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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