During the second round of Democratic primary debates Tuesday night, Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) argued that “strong border protections” will prevent impoverished migrants from coming to the U.S. illegally in search of government-funded higher education and healthcare.
Sanders endorsed stronger border-security measures after he was challenged by the CNN debate moderators to explain why his promise of publicly-funded higher education and healthcare for illegal immigrants would not incentivize increased illegal immigration, and further overwhelm the federal agencies that have failed to adequately house the record number of asylum-seekers that arrived at the border this year.
After offering a brief word of support for border security, Sanders pivoted, attacking the Trump administration’s attempts to secure the border as expressions of “racism and xenophobia.”
The Vermont socialist’s endorsement of “strong border protections” stands in sharp contrast to his previous endorsement of Representative Julian Castro’s (D., Texas) proposal to decriminalize illegal border crossings. Sanders raised his hand in support of the proposal — which would prevent authorities from detaining border-crossers unless they had committed another, ostensibly more serious crime — during the first round of Democratic primary debates in June, along with all but three of the more than 20 candidates who participated in the first round of debates.
While he has integrated the Democratic party’s emphasis on permissive immigration policy into his rhetoric on the stump early in the 2020 primary season, Sanders expressed concerns about the effects of illegal immigration on low-skill labor as recently as 2015, when he called an open borders policy “a Koch brother’s policy.”
“I think from a moral responsibility, we’ve got to work with the rest of the industrialized world to address the problems of international poverty,” Sanders told Vox’s Ezra Klein, “but you don’t do that by making people in this country even poorer.”
In response to legislation passed earlier this year, California governor Gavin Newsom released a 2020 budget proposal that includes some $98 million in new annual spending to make some 90,000 previously uninsured illegal immigrants eligible for the state’s Medicaid program.
Sanders is one of more than ten Democratic presidential candidates who supports providing government-funded healthcare to the estimated 11 million migrants currently residing in the country illegally.