Democratic Presidential Candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) argued in favor of decriminalizing illegal border crossings while some of their rivals on the debate stage strongly objected to the idea.
“Just to clarify, would you decriminalize illegal border crossings?” asked Dana Bash of CNN.
“Yes,” Warren said at the CNN Democratic presidential primary debate on Tuesday night. “The point is not about criminalization. That has given Donald Trump the tool to break families apart.”
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) said the Democrats should be able to figure out how to end family separation because “on the two debate nights, we’ve got 170 years of Washington experience. Somehow it seems like that should be fairly fixable.”
Warren replied, “Well, and one way to fix it is to decriminalize. That’s the whole point.”
Bash asked Sanders, “You want to provide undocumented immigrants free health care and free college. Why won’t this drive even more people to come to the U.S. illegally?”
“Because we’ll have strong border protections,” he responded. “But the main point I want to make is that what Trump is doing through his racism and his xenophobia, is demonizing a group of people. And as president, I will end that demonization. If a mother and a child walk thousands of miles on a dangerous path, in my view, they are not criminals.”
Gov. Steve Bullock (D-Mont.) argued against giving health insurance to undocumented immigrants.
“We’ve got 100,000 people showing up at the border right now. If we decriminalize entry, if we give health care to everyone, we’ll have multiples of that. Don’t take my word, that was President Obama’s Homeland Security secretary that said that,” he said.
Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said Sanders’ proposals are going to encourage more undocumented immigrants to come into the country illegally.
“Yes and right now, if you want to come into the country, you should at least ring the doorbell. We have asylum laws. I saw the kids up in Grand Rapids, not far from here. It is shameful what’s happening. But Donald Trump is doing it,” he said.
“Even if you decriminalize, which we should not do, you still have statutory authority. The president could still use his authority to separate families. So we’ve got to get rid of Donald Trump, but you don’t decriminalize people just walking into the United States. If they’re seeking asylum, of course, we want to welcome them. We’re a strong enough country to be able to welcome them,” he added.
Sanders disagreed with Ryan’s argument.
“I happen to believe that when I talk about healthcare as a human right that applies to all people in this country, and under a Medicare for All single-payer system, we could afford to do that,” he said.
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