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Yes, supports repeal
Some candidates have pushed for a repeal of the criminal statute for entering the country without permission.
U.S. senator, New Jersey
“I oppose criminal prosecution for individuals apprehended while crossing the border,” Booker told The Post. He would support civil penalties, his campaign told The Post. During the second Democratic debate, Booker said, “[T]he criminal courts is what is giving Donald Trump the ability to truly violate the human rights of people coming to our country, who no one surrenders their human rights. And so, doing it through the civil courts means that you won't need these awful detention facilities that I have been to ...”Candidate positions highlighted
Mayor, South Bend, Ind.
“When I am president, illegally crossing the border will still be illegal. We can argue about the finer points of which part should be handled by civil law and criminal law,” Buttigieg said in the second Democratic debate. “In my view, if fraud is involved, then that's suitable for the criminal statute. If not, then it should be handled under civil law.” Previously, he expressed support for that idea. “This administration's expansive use of criminal penalties for border crossers is ineffective, a waste of resources, and in many cases has been employed without respecting the due process rights of the people being prosecuted,” a Buttigieg spokesman told The Post in June. “We should focus prosecution resources on real criminal threats and real solutions to manage the border.”Candidate positions highlighted
Former mayor, San Antonio
“My ‘People First’ immigration policy — the first unveiled by a 2020 candidate — would repeal section 1325 and return to treating unauthorized entry into the U.S. as a civil, rather than criminal, violation,” Castro told The Post. “This provision has allowed for separation of children and families at our border, the large-scale detention of tens of thousands of families, and has deterred migrants from turning themselves in to an immigration official within our borders. The widespread detention of these individuals and families at our border has overburdened our justice system, been ineffective at deterring migration, and has cost our government billions of dollars.”Candidate positions highlighted
Kirsten Gillibrand (Dropped out)
U.S. senator, New York
Gillibrand is no longer running for president. Gillibrand raised her hand during the first Democratic debate when a moderator asked which candidates think crossing the border without documentation should be a civil offense rather than a crime.Candidate positions highlighted
Kamala D. Harris
U.S. senator, California
Harris raised her hand during the first Democratic debate when a moderator asked which candidates think crossing the border without documentation should be a civil offense rather than a crime.Candidate positions highlighted
Jay Inslee (Dropped out)
Governor, Washington state
Inslee is no longer running for president. In his immigration plan, Inslee says “There is no solution to be found in continued militarization of the border, criminalization of civil immigration violations, or indiscriminate targeting and deportation of those who have lived in this country for decades and contribute to our economy and our society.”Candidate positions highlighted
Mayor, Miramar, Fla.
Messam supports the repeal of criminal penalties for people apprehended crossing the border, he told The Post.Candidate positions highlighted
Seth Moulton (Dropped out)
U.S. representative, Massachusetts
Moulton is no longer running for president. “Yes. Crossing the border is against the law, and it should be. Nobody should cross our border without us knowing,” Moulton told The Post. “But until we fix our asylum system to recognize all legitimate refugees, and encourage them to come here legally, not illegally, these criminal penalties are unrealistic and unjust.”Candidate positions highlighted
U.S. senator, Vermont
“If a mother and a child walk thousands of miles on a dangerous path, in my view, they are not criminals,” Sanders said in the second Democratic debate. Earlier, he told The Post, “we must establish a humane review process for those who are currently arriving at the border that includes an end to Operation Streamline, the President George W. Bush practice that began to ramp up criminal charges for unauthorized border crossings. Prior to 2005, nearly all border crossings were handled by civil proceedings, and as president, I would return to that standard, reserving criminal prosecution only for security threats and extenuating circumstances.”Candidate positions highlighted
U.S. senator, Massachusetts
Warren supports this proposal, her campaign told The Post. “Entering the country without authorization has always been a violation of civil immigration law, but thanks to a former segregationist Senator, it’s also a criminal violation. This additional criminal provision is totally unnecessary for border security, and for a century, it was rarely enforced. But since the early 2000s, it has been used to build and sustain a massive immigration detention complex,” her immigration plan said. “What you're saying is ignore the law. Laws matter,” Warren said in the second Democratic debate. “And it matters if we say our law is that we will lock people up who come here, seeking refuge, who come here, seeking asylum, that is not a crime. And as Americans, what we need to do is have a sane system that keeps us safe at the border, but does not criminalize the activity of a mother fleeing here for safety.”Candidate positions highlighted
“Criminal penalties for criminals must be kept. Everyone who crosses the border is not a criminal. It is legal to seek asylum,” Williamson told The Post. “Trump is trying to make asylum seekers into criminals in order to separate children from their parents as a deterrent to legal immigration. That is unconscionable and must be stopped.”Candidate positions highlighted
“Putting border crossers into our criminal justice system costs us billions of dollars and swamps a system that is not designed for it,” Yang told The Post. “I would be for criminalizing those who make a business of trafficking people in, or repeat offenders or those who enter after deportation proceedings or conviction of a crime. But individuals or families who cross the border should be treated as civil offenders.”Candidate positions highlighted
As part of a compromise
As part of a compromise
Others said they would consider doing so as part of a broader immigration deal
Former U.S. representative, Pennsylvania
“Yes, as part of a compromise. We cannot abide a situation in which border crossing being a criminal offense — as opposed to a civil one — is used as a pretext to break up families,” Sestak told The Post.Candidate positions highlighted
Eric Swalwell (Dropped out)
U.S. representative, California
Swalwell is no longer running for president. “Our immigration system is fundamentally broken and needs fundamental reform,” Swalwell told The Post. "Major changes we make to our immigration system, such as removing the criminal penalties for crossing the border illegally, should be done only as part of a comprehensive reform bill in which all sides compromise."Candidate positions highlighted
No, opposes repeal
These Democrats oppose eliminating criminal border crossing penalties
U.S. senator, Colorado
“We need to fix our broken immigration system in a way that honors our tradition as a nation of immigrants while upholding the rule of law,” Bennet told The Post. “We must be humane in our immigration enforcement, but we also must focus on reforms like improving the asylum process so we can encourage legal immigration and discourage illegal border crossings.”Candidate positions highlighted
Former vice president
“No, I don't,” Biden told CNN when asked if he wanted to decriminalize border crossings. “I think people should have to get in line, but if people are coming because they're actually seeking asylum they should have a chance to make their case.”Candidate positions highlighted
“I would not seek the repeal of criminal penalties for people apprehended crossing the border and who do not seek to claim asylum, but I would reverse the Trump Administration’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy that led to inhumane family separations and the detention of small children,” Bullock told The Post. “We’ve got 100,00 people showing up at the border right now. If we decriminalize entry, if we give free healthcare to everyone, we’ll have multiples of that,” Bullock said at the second Democratic debate. “A sane immigration system needs a sane leader. And we can do that without decriminalizing and providing health care for everyone.”Candidate positions highlighted
Former U.S. representative, Maryland
Delaney does not support eliminating criminal penalties for crossing the border, he told The Post.Candidate positions highlighted
U.S. senator, Minnesota
“I think we need to look at that law, but I do not support getting rid of that entire law,” Klobuchar said at an event at The Post. “I think this all comes down to enforcement and you may have cases involving security where you would want to be able to have the tool of that law.”Candidate positions highlighted
Former U.S. representative, Texas
“[I]n my administration, after we have waived citizenship fees for green card holders, more than 9 million of our fellow Americans; freed DREAMers from any fear of deportation; and stopped criminally prosecuting families and children for seeking asylum and refuge; end for-profit detention in this country; and then assist those countries in Central America so that no family ever has to make that 2,000-mile journey, than I expect that people who come here follow our laws, and we reserve the right to criminally prosecute them if they do not,” O'Rourke said in the second Democratic debate. Earlier, he said on CNN, “if somebody is attempting to smuggle human beings into the United States, if they are attempting to cross illegal drugs into this country, I want to make sure that we have the legal mechanism necessary to hold them accountable and to detain them to make sure they do not pose a threat to this country or to our communities. ... I do not think it should be repealed.” He and Castro sparred over the issue at the first Democratic debate.Candidate positions highlighted
U.S. representative, Ohio
“If you want to come into the country, you should at least ring the doorbell,” Ryan said at the second Democratic debate. “I believe we can both be more humane and welcoming to those seeking refuge while still remaining a nation of laws,” Ryan told The Post in May. “It’s important that we eradicate cruel and immoral practices like family separation, and I believe that it’s necessary and possible to reduce the broad scale of detentions that have overburdened our judicial system and wasted tax dollars. But we can and must do that by focusing our attention on how we can best serve those seeking asylum, rather than undoing 90 years of immigration law.”Candidate positions highlighted
Candidates who do not appear to have addressed the question, or who have not returned responses.
Bill de Blasio (Dropped out)
Mayor, New York City
de Blasio is no longer running for president. During the second Democratic debate, de Blasio referenced the undocumented immigrants living in the United States, asking, “Why are we even discussing on one level whether it's a civil penalty or a criminal penalty, when it's an American reality?” De Blasio did not provide an answer to this question.Candidate positions highlighted
U.S. representative, Hawaii
“That's something that I'm looking at. I think decriminalizing could lead to open borders. We need safe, secure borders in this country,” Gabbard said on The View. During the second Democratic debate, Gabbard said “we can and should have both secure borders as well as humane immigration policies.”Candidate positions highlighted
John Hickenlooper (Dropped out)
Former governor, Colorado
Hickenlooper is no longer running for president. “I agree that we need secure borders. There's no question about that,” Hickenlooper said in the second Democratic debate. “And the frustration with what's going on in Washington is they're kicking the ball back and forth. Secure the borders, make sure whatever law we have doesn't allow children to be snatched from their parents and put in cages. How hard can that be?” He said he would repeal criminal penalties for those illegally crossing the border, but only for those seeking asylum.Candidate positions highlighted
Donald Trump transformed the politics of immigration on the day he announced his presidential campaign in 2015 by characterizing migrants as criminals and promising to build a new “great wall” on the U.S.-Mexico border. Fighting illegal immigration has been his signature issue ever since.
The Democratic response has been fierce opposition to most of Trump’s policies — including a ban on travelers from Muslim countries and a lapsed enforcement policy that led to the separation of thousands of children from their parents. The candidates support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants now in the country and most support higher refugee quotas, but the party has been less clear in laying out a vision for handling a new wave of migrants from Central America, and it has divided over whether to be more permissive than the Obama administration was in how it handles recent border crossers and those living in the country without permission.
Where the candidates stand
Here’s where the candidates stand on immigration issues, based on their statements, voting records and answers to a questionnaire that was sent to every campaign.
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Chelsea Janes contributed to this report.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of ICE removals in fiscal 2016.
How candidate positions were compiled
The Washington Post sent a detailed questionnaire to every Democratic campaign asking whether it supports various changes to U.S. immigration and border security policy. Candidates with similar stances were organized into groups using a combination of those answers, legislative records, action taken in an executive role and other public comments, such as policy discussion on campaign websites, social media posts, interviews, town hall meetings and other news reports. See something we missed? Let us know.
We expect candidates to develop more detailed policy positions throughout the campaign, and this page will update as we learn more about their plans. We also will note if candidates change their position on an issue. At initial publication, this page included major candidates who had announced a run for president or an exploratory committee. The Post will contact additional candidates as they enter the race and include them here.
Recent changes on this page
Sept. 20 De Blasio dropped out of presidential race.
Sept. 10 Updated Biden stance on refugee acceptance rates (to confirm he would accept at least 110,000) and included more recent comments on aid to Latin America.
Sept. 4 Adjusted the question ordering to reflect the most prominent immigration policy debates of the campaign so far. The Yang campaign clarified his position on family detention facilities, so his position was adjusted.
Aug. 28 Gillibrand dropped out of presidential race.
Aug. 23 Moulton dropped out of presidential race.
Aug. 22 Inslee dropped out of presidential race.
Aug. 15 Hickenlooper dropped out of presidential race.
Aug. 2 Added quotes from the second night of the second Democratic debate about decriminalizing border crossings.
July 31 Added quotes from the first night of the second Democratic debate about health care for undocumented immigrants and decriminalizing border crossings.
July 30 Added Sestak.
July 20 Updated Biden stance on decriminalizing border crossings based on interview with CNN.
July 11 Added details from Warren's immigration proposal.
July 8 Swalwell dropped out of presidential race.
July 2 Added positions for Gillibrand and Harris on whether they would seek to repeal criminal penalties for people apprehended while crossing the border based on their answers during the debate.
June 21 Added several positions for Gabbard based on a response from her campaign.
June 21 Added several positions for Warren based on a response from her campaign.
June 20 Added Bullock and de Blasio’s positions based on surveys returned from their campaigns. Added several positions for Gabbard, Hickenlooper and Inslee based on response from the campaigns.
June 17 Added Bennet's positions based on a survey returned from his campaign.
June 11 Updated Moulton and Buttigieg stances on health care for undocumented immigrants, as well as Buttigieg on criminal penalties for border crossers and e-Verify.
May 29 Updated Klobuchar's answer on deportation based on updated information from her campaign.
May 16 Added some Biden stances based on public statements.
May 6 Adjusted Williamson's answers on criminal penalties for people apprehended while crossing the border and family detention after her campaign sent clarifications based on additional information.
May 6 Updated with Warren's refugee acceptance rate after more guidance from her campaign.
May 6 Adjusted categorization of Buttigieg answer on abolishing ICE (from "Unclear" to "Restructure or redistribute") after campaign clarification. Also adjusted categories on the family detention question to better group similar positions.
May 6 Added Castro’s position on covering undocumented immigrants.
May 6 Page published.