immigration

Would you seek the repeal of criminal penalties for people apprehended while crossing the border?

Yes

Yes, supports repeal

Some candidates have pushed for a repeal of the criminal statute for entering the country without permission.

Cory Booker

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
Cory Booker
Booker

Pete Buttigieg

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
Pete Buttigieg
Buttigieg

Julian Castro

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.”

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Julian Castro
Castro

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.

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Kirsten Gillibrand
Gillibrand

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.

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Kamala Harris
Harris

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.”

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Jay Inslee
Inslee

Wayne Messam

Mayor, Miramar, Fla.

Messam supports the repeal of criminal penalties for people apprehended crossing the border, he told The Post.

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Wayne Messam
Messam

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.”

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Seth Moulton
Moulton

Bernie Sanders

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.”

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Bernie Sanders
Sanders

Elizabeth Warren

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.”

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Elizabeth Warren
Warren

Marianne Williamson

Author

“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.”

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Marianne Williamson
Williamson

Andrew Yang

Tech entrepreneur

“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.”

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Andrew Yang
Yang

As part of a compromise

As part of a compromise

Others said they would consider doing so as part of a broader immigration deal

Joe Sestak

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.

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Joe Sestak
Sestak

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."

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Eric Swalwell
Swalwell

No

No, opposes repeal

These Democrats oppose eliminating criminal border crossing penalties

Michael Bennet

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.”

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Michael Bennet
Bennet

Joe Biden

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.”

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Joe Biden
Biden

Steve Bullock

Governor, Montana

“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.”

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Steve Bullock
Bullock

John Delaney

Former U.S. representative, Maryland

Delaney does not support eliminating criminal penalties for crossing the border, he told The Post.

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John Delaney
Delaney

Amy Klobuchar

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
Amy Klobuchar
Klobuchar

Beto O'Rourke

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.

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Beto O'Rourke
O'Rourke

Tim Ryan

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.”

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Tim Ryan
Ryan

Unclear/No response

Unclear/No response

Candidates who do not appear to have addressed the question, or who have not returned responses.

Bill de Blasio

Mayor, New York City

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
Bill de Blasio
de Blasio

Tulsi Gabbard

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
Tulsi Gabbard
Gabbard

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
John Hickenlooper
Hickenlooper

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Background The lapsed Trump administration policy of charging every border crosser with a crime led in 2018 to thousands of children being separated from their parents or guardians, because court orders do not allow children to be held in the same facilities. As a result, some Democrats have pushed for a repeal of the criminal statute for entering the country without permission. In most cases, border crossers would still go through a civil legal process that could lead to their deportation.

The Post is sending detailed questionnaires to every Democratic candidate asking for their stances on various issues. See all the issues we’ve asked about so far.

See our other questions on immigration:

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.

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