Amidst news of the horrific conditions and casualties on America's southern border, immigration was one of the most talked about issues of the first Democratic Debate. Julian Castro, a former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development, mentioned a law that was being used to criminalize immigrants crossing the border, but exactly what is Section 1325, and how does the Castro plan to fight it?
When Beto O'Rourke was asked about his immigration plan, Castro interrupted, seemingly passionate to clear the record. When he was finally given the time to speak, Castro explained how things can't change until Section 1325 is addressed.
"Let's be very clear, the reason that they're separating little children from their families is that they're using Section 1325 of that act which criminalizes coming across the border to incarcerate the parents, and then separate them," said Castro. "Some of us on this stage have called to end that section, to terminate it. Some, like congressman O'Rourke have not, and I want to challenge all of the candidates to do that. I just think it's a mistake and I think that if you truly want to change the system, then we have got to repeal that section. If not, then it might as well be the same policy."
The policy Castro is talking about falls under Title 8 of the U.S. Code. As it reads on the United States Department of Justice website, Section 1325 basically criminalizes illegal entry into the country.
"Section 1325 sets forth criminal offenses relating to (1) improper entry into the United States by an alien, (2) entry into marriage for the purpose of evading immigration laws, and (3) establishing a commercial enterprise for the purpose of evading immigration laws," reads the policy. "The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) amended 8 U.S.C. § 1325 to provide that an alien apprehended while entering or attempting to enter the United States at a time or place other than as designated by immigration officers shall be subject to a civil penalty."
This isn't the first time Castro has spoken up against this particular immigration law. In an April post on Medium, the former Obama administration cabinet member talked about the history of this policy and how it hurts immigration.
“This antiquated law dates back to the era when my grandmother presented herself at Texas’ Eagle Pass border crossing, remanded as an orphan to her nearest relatives in San Antonio,” he wrote. “That decade — the 1920s — the U.S. government moved to cut off a wave of Mexican immigrants like her.”
“This shift to criminalize immigration is at the core of many of this administration’s most egregious immigration policies — from family separation to indiscriminate ICE raids to targeting asylum seekers,” Castro added. “It also underlies some of this administration’s most damaging rhetoric that vilifies immigrants and families.”
Of the 20 plus candidates campaigning for the Democratic nomination, Elizabeth Warren has been the only one so far to join Castro's stance against Section 1325.
“I agree with Secretary Castro,” Warren said in a Jun. 25 statement to HuffPost. “We should not be criminalizing mamas and babies trying to flee violence at home or trying to build a better future. We must pass comprehensive immigration reform that is in line with our values, creates a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants including our DREAMers, and protects our borders.”
It's still pretty early to predict who will get the Democratic nomination for president, but it is clear that immigration policy will play a big part in the process. Castro seems pretty firm on his stance against Section 1325, and it will be interesting to see if more candidates join him in this fight.