Beto Slams Warren’s ‘Mistaken’ Call to Decriminalize Border Crossings

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke speaks during the first night of the second Democratic presidential debate in Detroit, Mich., July 30, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Beto O’Rourke criticized Senator Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday for suggesting that decriminalizing illegal border crossings is the most effective way to end family separations at the border.

During the second round of Democratic primary debates Tuesday evening, Warren reiterated her support for eliminating the criminal statute prohibiting illegal entry into the country, which would ensure that only migrants who commit other, ostensibly more serious crimes can be detained.

Asked about Warren’s position during a Wednesday appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, O’Rourke argued that the family separations that occurred at the border under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” enforcement policy can be prevented without fundamentally altering immigration law.

“I tried to correct the record, but wasn’t recognized to do this: Senator Warren mistakenly said that Donald Trump is using the criminal code to separate families and to cage kids and to visit this cruelty and inhumanity on our fellow human beings, and that’s just not right,” O’Rourke said.

“You can use the civil code, the criminal code, or you could just look to one of the cruelest, most inhumane presidents that we’ve ever had. That’s the problem that we have right now. It’s not an immigration law that’s been on the books for decades,” he added.

The former Texas congressman was one of just three Democratic primary candidates to demure when asked during the first round of debates whether they would support Representative Julian Castro’s proposal to make illegal border crossing a civil, rather than a criminal, offense.

O’Rourke, who grew up near the southern border in El Paso, Texas, defended his opposition to Castro’s proposal by pointing out that section 1325 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which makes crossing the border a criminal offense, is primarily being used to detain people who are suspected of human or drug trafficking. In fact, only roughly ten percent of people caught crossing the border illegally this year were prosecuted under section 1325.

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