By Nick Corasaniti
Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey on Tuesday announced a plan to drastically alter the nation’s immigration detention system through an executive order on his first day in office if he is elected president.
In an effort to draw stark contrast to the immigration detention policies of the Trump administration, Mr. Booker’s platform simultaneously establishes a new, stronger set of civil detention standards for facilities operated by the Department of Homeland Security, and directs the department to phase out any contracts with private prison facilities and county or local prisons over three years.
Mr. Booker also pledged to take executive action to further dismantle many of the actions that have defined the first two years of President Trump’s tenure. His plan calls for restoring protections granted to young immigrants known as Dreamers under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program; reforming the onerous bond requirements for detained immigrants; ending the Trump administration’s restrictions on immigration from predominantly Muslim countries; and halting all construction and expenditures on Mr. Trump’s border wall and even removing some sections of the wall the campaign says is harming border communities.
Together, the platform aligns with the leftward shift on immigration that was on display during the first Democratic primary debates last week, which was seen as a relentless rebuke of Mr. Trump’s immigration platform. Indeed, there was near-unanimous support among the Democratic presidential candidates for decriminalizing illegal border crossings and for offering health insurance to unauthorized immigrants. Mr. Booker’s campaign said he supports both initiatives, and his plan pledges to “stop treating immigrants as criminals.”
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Mr. Booker, the former mayor of Newark who has claimed a national stature for nearly two decades, put forth a well-received performance in the first Democratic debate resulting in a new surge of fund-raising for his campaign. But he has been mired in low, single-digit polling in most surveys, both at the national level and in some key early states. He was also criticized recently by activists for attending a fund-raiser hosted by a New Jersey official who oversees a county jail that houses undocumented immigrants and has been criticized for poor conditions.
“Although there are limits on what we can do to reverse the damage that has already been done to the lives of thousands and to communities across our country, we can put an end to the horror, and turn the page to a new chapter of our history,” Mr. Booker said in a statement. “Our country must have an immigration system that reflects our values, not one that strips dignity away from people fleeing danger, threats, and violence.”
The plan also seeks to restore and build upon some executive actions taken by President Barack Obama. In addition to restoring protections for Dreamers, Mr. Booker would restore the Central American Minors Program, an Obama-era initiative that provided eligible children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador an easier pathway to refugee status in the United States.
Much of the platform announced on Tuesday draws from previous legislation Mr. Booker has championed as a senator, though his campaign said it was not his entire immigration platform, just the executive actions that could be taken Day 1 in office (“Cory Booker Won’t Wait for Congress” reads the news release).
While the proposed executive actions from the Booker campaign would start the reform process, some immigration activists and experts note that these are not necessarily “Day 1” issues; there is, for example, no mechanism to release tens of thousands of immigration detainees overnight, and much of the processes and platforms set out by Mr. Booker could take months to enact.
The campaign is taking a long-term approach in their proposed actions, as Mr. Booker pledged to seek to address some of the root causes of the surge in immigration, promising to appoint a special envoy at the State Department to lead his administration’s efforts and focus on corruption, violence, poverty and climate change.
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