Elections 2020FederalImmigration & BorderIssuesFighting for Nomination, Beto Releases Detailed Immigration Plan

As momentum for the former Texas congressman has tapered significantly in the Democratic presidential primary, Beto goes all-in on immigration.
May 30, 2019
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Former Texas congressman and current Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) released his immigration policy proposal yesterday, characterized as the “most sweeping rewrite of U.S. immigration law.”

O’Rourke’s proposal comes almost two weeks after the White House released President Trump’s plan, which calls for a transition to a merit-based immigration system.

Currently, only 12 percent of immigrants who legally enter the U.S. are admitted due to their employment or skill level.

The White House wants to increase that percentage to 57 percent through a new visa program that rewards talent, professional and specialized vocations, and exceptional students.

O’Rourke’s proposal, branded under the name In Our Own Image, would create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people and make naturalization easier for 9 million eligible immigrants. Immigration hawks routinely view the phrase ‘pathway to citizenship’ as merely a different way to advocate for amnesty for those who have entered the country illegally.

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The number of individuals that would receive this pathway under O’Rourke’s plan is equivalent to granting citizenship to a population the size of the state of Georgia.

O’Rourke states that his approach would involve “three pillars” built around executive action, congressional lawmaking, and engagement with allies in the Western Hemisphere.

He claims that he wants to, “End the cruel policies of the Trump administration, only require detention for those with criminal backgrounds who represent a danger to our communities, and more than double U.S. investment in Central America.”

As part of his executive actions, O’Rourke says that on day one in office, he would “stop the inhumane treatment of children, reunite families that have been separated, reform our asylum system, rescind the travel ban, and remove the fear of deportation” for so-called Dreamers.

O’Rourke also states that he would personally lead a public-private initiative to bring “humanitarian resources” to the border. Details of what exactly this initiative would look like are not specified in the plan.

As part of his executive actions, O’Rourke also specifies that on day one of his presidency, he will call for immediate steps to increase staffing in the asylum system, streamlining case processing, and provide timely and fair asylum decisions. Specifically, the proposal calls for:

▪ Increasing the number of court staff, clerks, interpreters, and judges;

▪ Making the courts independent under Article I, rather than administered by the U.S. Department of Justice;

▪ Ending policies that prevent judges from managing their dockets in the most effective way;

▪ Expanding the Legal Orientation Program (LOP), which educates detained immigrants about their rights and the immigration court process;

▪ Deploying up to 2,000 lawyers to the border and funding a robust right to counsel; and

▪ Developing approaches to resolve asylum cases outside of the court system, such as by allowing U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers to fully adjudicate cases when conducting credible fear interviews to prevent referring more cases into the backlogged courts.

A Center for Immigration Studies analysis utilizing federal data shows that the number of individuals claiming “credible fear” to receive asylum in the U.S. nearly doubled from 2017 to 2018.

Under U.S. law, “credible fear” is established only if an individual can prove in a hearing before an immigration judge that he or she has been persecuted or harmed on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, or political opinion.

Proponents of tougher border security often argue that U.S. asylum laws are being abused as very few illegal aliens coming from Central America would fit the criteria necessary to establish credible fear.

The O’Rourke plan would also call on Congress to pass immigration legislation that would change U.S. immigration law.

Aside from a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal aliens, the plan would also push Congress to establish a new community-based visa for churches and local communities to sponsor immigrants as part of supplementing the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

The plan states that it would also have Congress increase annual visa caps, but fails to specify by how much.

Additionally, O’Rourke’s plan would have Congress fund increased personnel at the border (a request currently being made by the Trump Administration), “strengthen infrastructure” through the creation of new ports of entry and increased funding for federal grant programs to state and local law enforcement, and “addressing failures” by better tracking visa overstays.

O’Rourke’s plan also calls for a complete halt to any physical barrier constructions on the southern border of the U.S. and states that he will include zero dollars for what he describes as an “unnecessary” wall.

O’Rourke’s proposal levies myriad accusations against the Trump administration, citing that it “is pursuing cruel and cynical policies that aim to sow needless chaos and confusion at our borders. It is manufacturing crises in our communities.”

However, in April alone, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) cited over 109,000 total apprehensions, the second straight month with over 100,000 individuals apprehended. This figure does not account for the total number of illegal border crossings.

“The system is full. We’ve been very clear about that,” acting Homeland Security Security Kevin McAleenan said last weekend on CBS News. “So what we’re trying to do is plan to be able to manage that capacity safely, to bring people where we can process them efficiently. And as a planning factor, we’re looking at all options for being able to detain people.”

With the current barriers and funding, CBP has reported roughly 460,000 total apprehensions this fiscal year along the southwest border. This is nearly double the number of apprehensions from this time last year. And there still remain five more months in the fiscal year.

O’Rourke also calls for further investment in Latin America with a proposed five billion dollars in taxpayer-funded foreign aid.

O’Rourke has an event planned this morning in Dallas to reveal more details about his expansive immigration plan. A copy of the press release outlining his proposal can be found below.

He is currently eligible for the June debates in Miami, FL and is currently polling at 4 percent among Democratic primary voters.

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Tony Guajardo

Tony Guajardo is a reporter for The Texan. He has been involved in politics since the fall of 2012 when he served as an intern for the now-retired U.S. Congressman Charlie Gonzalez (D-San Antonio). He is a native of Fort Worth, Texas and graduated from Texas A&M University.