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Castro Separates Himself from Field by Calling to Decriminalize Border Crossings

Julian Castro at the Democratic debate in Miami, Fla., June 26, 2019. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Julian Castro, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama, distanced himself from his progressive opponents on the issue of immigration by calling for the decriminalization of illegal border crossings during the opening primary debate Wednesday night.

Castro lashed out at Beto O’Rourke over his refusal to acknowledge what he regards as the central factor behind family separations at the border: Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which makes it a federal offense to cross or attempt to cross the U.S. border “at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers.”

“The reason that they’re separating these little children from their families is they’re using Section 1325 . . . to incarcerate the parents and then separate them,” Castro said. He then called on the rest of the Democratic field gathered in Miami for the debate to join him in calling for the law’s repeal, singling O’Rourke out by name over his opposition.

“I just think it’s a mistake, Beto, I think it’s a mistake, and if you truly want to change the system, then we gotta repeal that section,” Castro said. “If not, then it might as well be the same policy.”

The former mayor of San Antonio first released his plan to repeal section 1325 in April, establishing himself as a progressive outlier on the issue of border security. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) joined Castro on the left this week, releasing her own permissive immigration platform that also calls for repealing the statute.

O’Rourke, who has opposed repealing section 1325 in the past because he believes it would give cover to human and drug traffickers, tried to redirect the conversation to asylum-seekers, prompting accusations that he was dodging the real issue.

“A lot of folks that are coming are not seeking asylum — a lot of them are undocumented immigrants,” Castro said, pointing out that other federal statutes criminalize drug and human trafficking.

“I think you should do your homework on this issue,” Castro said. “If you did your homework on this issue, you would know that we should repeal this section.”

Castro seized on the exchange with O’Rourke as evidence of his greater mastery of the immigration issue following the debate.

“I find it very ironic that a senator from Massachusetts and a senator from New Jersey are the ones who understand this border policy and this law better than Congressman O’Rourke,” Castro told reporters.

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