Throughout Donald Trump’s presidency, immigration has consistently been one of the most high-profile areas of discussion. As the presidential candidates for 2020 continue to pour in, I can’t help but wonder how their stances are different (or similar) on the hot topic of immigration.  After some investigating (and reading WAY too many news articles on the subject), here is my summary on where the top Democratic candidates stand on the issue of immigration.

Joe Biden: Biden has voted for several pieces of immigrant-friendly legislation, and voted against the 1996 bill that would have imposed strict limits on family immigration to the United States. More recently, Biden called Trump’s efforts to repeal it “cruel” and “inhumane.”  However, Biden has voted twice to build more fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border, and supported a bill to ban immigrants with HIV from entering the United States. He also voted to increase border patrol, increase penalties for immigrants who use fraudulent documentation, and impose various other restrictions on immigration via the Immigration in the National Interest Act.  In 2019, in an op-ed he wrote in the Miami Herald, he refuted Trump’s claims that a border wall would stop the flow of immigrants and illegal drugs and instead advocated for “smart investments in border technology,” and “recognizing that DREAMers are Americans.”

Elizabeth Warren: Warren has said that the country needed an “immigration system that is effective, that focuses on where problems are.” Warren voted against defunding sanctuary cities and has denounced the Trump administration for splitting up immigrant families at the border. In 2018, Warren co-sponsored the REUNITE Act, which would reunite families who had been separated at or near ports of entry along the border.  She has also called for “replacing ICE with something that reflects our morality and that works,” according to the Hill. Warren also supports the DREAM Act.  “I will continue to fight for comprehensive immigration reform that protects our borders, creates a permanent solution that provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants”, said Warren.

Bernie Sanders: “On day 1, we take out our executive order and we rescind every damn thing on this issue that Trump has done…We have to look at the root causes…What we have to do on day 1 is invite the presidents and the leadership of Central America and Mexico together. This is a hemispheric problem.”  Sanders’ view on immigration is complicated, but by and large, he’s relatively progressive on the issue. Sanders voted against defunding sanctuary cities in 2018 and told CNN that splitting up families at the border is “heartless.”  “I believe we must bring this population out of the shadows, remove the fear and anxiety in their everyday lives, and put them on a fast, fair and inclusive pathway to citizenship,” said Sanders.  However, Sanders said in a 2007 press release that low-skilled immigration to the United States drives down American wages, and opposed the 2007 immigration reform bill, though he said at a 2016 primary debate that this was because the guest worker program it included would have amounted to what he described as “modern slavery.” In 2018, Sanders co-sponsored the REUNITE Act, which would reunite families separated at or near ports of entry along the border.  Though he supports the DREAM Act and DACA, Sanders says the programs should be expanded. Moreover, Sanders said he would “restructure” ICE.

Kamala Harris: “Part of the problem, the failure of the system right now, there is no path for people to have legal status, we have to have comprehensive immigration reform,” said Harris.  At a November 2017 press conference, Harris expressed support for DACA, and said that she wouldn’t vote for any government funding bill that didn’t protect the 700,000 “Dreamers” from deportation. “I will immediately, by executive action, reinstate DACA status and DACA protection to those young people. I will further extend protection for deferral of deportation for their parents and for veterans…I will also immediately put in place a meaningful process for reviewing the cases for asylum and release children from cages and get rid of the private detention centers.”  However, Harris has been criticized for supporting a 2008 policy as district attorney of San Francisco that had the city deporting undocumented youths who had been arrested. She told MSNBC in 2018 that “ICE should exist,” but she has called for a “complete overhaul of the agency, mission, culture and operations.”  Harris sponsored eight bills relating to immigration in the 115th Congress, including one to reunite families separated at ports of entry, according to a report from ProPublica.  In 2017, she became the first Senate Democrat to publicly vow to oppose any government funding bill unless Congress included a resolution to protect the 700,000 DREAMers affected by President Trump’s efforts to end the program.

Pete Buttigieg: “We should call out hypocrisy. And for a party that associates with Christianity to say it is okay to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, that God would condone putting children in cages, [they’ve] lost all claim to ever use religion language again.”  Buttigieg supports DACA and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, as he explained in a 2017 interview with WSBT, and he told CBS News that Trump’s deployment of U.S. troops to the Mexican border was “a waste of time.” Intriguingly, he suggested in a 2017 HuffPost op-ed that the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants is actually a betrayal of traditional conservative values.  Buttigieg’s immigration plan includes “a balance of border security, tune-ups to the lawful immigration framework, [and] a path to citizenship for the undocumented.”

Julián Castro: “I believe we should create a path to citizenship and take off the burden of worrying about … deportation,” said Castro.  Castro said in a 2013 congressional testimony that any immigration reform passed by Congress should include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He opposes Trump’s border wall, saying it’s ineffective and “ultimately a big waste of money.”  Castro says the country should instead invest in more personnel along the border, better technology and heightened security at legal ports of entry.  He does not support the abolishment of ICE.

Cory Booker: Booker introduced legislation in 2017 that would ban state and local law enforcement from arresting people under suspicion of having violated federal immigration laws; effectively, this would make every city in the United States a sanctuary city. Booker wrote on Twitter that the U.S. government has a “moral obligation” to pass the DREAM Act, and told that the United States should welcome Syrian refugees.  “Immigration laws that benefit our country is not a new idea. We are who we are as a nation because of immigration. This is our moral values. It is our economic well-being, and it’s what makes us distinctive on the planet Earth,” said Booker.  He was one of 11 Democrats who requested weekly updates about the families who had been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Beto O’Rourke:  O’Rourke has made it abundantly clear that he opposes a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Calling it a “symbol of division,” he’s released several videos outlining why he believes that a wall would be a bad idea, the Hill reported. He told MSNBC in February that he wants to take down part of an existing border fence in El Paso, and introduced legislation in 2017 that would protect DACA recipients from deportation.  In 2017, he co-sponsored the DREAM Act.  During his first 100 days in office, Beto O’Rourke said he “will put the full weight of the presidency behind passing legislation” to create an “earned pathway to citizenship” for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.  O’Rourke has said that “immigration is a cultural and economic good,” and he supports comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship.  In 2017, O’Rourke introduced the Protecting the Property Rights of Border Landowners Act to the House, which would “prohibit the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General from using eminent domain to acquire land for the purpose of constructing the wall,” among other purposes.

Andrew Yang:  Yang has more conservative views on immigration than most, perhaps all, of his Democratic opponents. Any pathway to citizenship “must reflect the fact that these individuals tried to circumvent our legal immigration system,” Yang says on his website, and should only be considered “after securing our southern border.”  Under Yang’s proposal, undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country for a “substantial amount of time” could work and live in the U.S. while they wait, as long as they pay taxes and remain free of any felony convictions.

Amy Klobuchar: “I believe that immigrants don’t diminish America, that they are America. That means to me that we need to have comprehensive immigration reform,” said Amy Klobuchar.  At a 2006 Senate debate, Klobuchar proposed building a fence on the U.S.-Mexico border, and said that the federal government should “stop giving amnesty to companies that are hiring illegal immigrants.” At that same debate, she endorsed a path to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants and reiterated that position in a 2018 interview with ABC News. Klobuchar also told ABC News that the Trump administration’s family separation policy is “horrendous,” but when asked about the prospect of abolishing ICE, said that “we are always going to need immigration enforcement.”

Tulsi Gabbard: Gabbard voted for a bill to ban DHS from separating immigrant families at the border and co-sponsored the DREAM Act.  In 2015, however, she was one of few Democrats to vote for a bill to impose additional restrictions on Syrian refugees entering the United States. The year before, she put out a press release calling on Obama to suspend the Visa Waiver Program for countries with “large numbers of Islamic extremists actively fighting alongside” ISIS and other terrorist groups in the Middle East.  Gabbard opposed the Trump administration’s travel ban as well as the president’s decision to end DACA.

Tim Ryan: In 2006, Ryan voted for a bill to construct a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. Aside from that, he’s generally adopted liberal positions on immigration. In a 2017 press release, Ryan condemned Trump’s attempt to repeal DACA as “heartless,” and he voted for a version of the DREAM Act in 2010. In 2018, he joined other Democrats in introducing the Keep Families Together Act in response to President Trump’s zero-immigration policy.

Kirsten Gillibrand: As a congresswoman from a conservative district in New York, Gillibrand voted to increase funding for ICE by $9 billion, and said in her 2006 campaign that securing U.S. borders is a “national security priority,” according to CNN.  She’s expressed regret for her past positions on immigration, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper that they “certainly weren’t empathetic, and they were not kind, and [she] did not think about suffering in other people’s lives.”  Gillibrand voted for the DREAM Act in 2010 and has called herself an ally to DACA recipients.  She supports the abolishment of ICE, and was the first U.S. senator to publicly do so.

Eric Swalwell: In 2018, he voted against the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act, which would have amended immigration law, including changes to detention laws that say families coming to the border seeking asylum may be held together indefinitely at the border. The bill also would have included $25 billion for border security. He was a co-sponsor of the Reuniting Families Act, which would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act, and voted in favor of legislation that would prohibit the use of funds to implement Trump’s executive order blocking travel or entry of individuals from majority Muslim countries.  On Twitter, Swalwell has stated his support for DACA and the DREAM Act, as well as his opposition to family separation.

Steve Bullock: Bullock’s record on immigration is somewhat thin, but according to, he was one of 11 governors who signed a 2017 letter expressing support for DACA and urging Congress to pass a legislative fix to protect the roughly 800,000 DACA recipients.  In 2018, Bullock denied Trump’s request for Montana to deploy National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking.  In May 2019, Bullock vetoed an anti-sanctuary bill passed by the Montana Legislature that would have banned sanctuary policies and honored ICE-issued detainees.

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