John Delaney opposes decriminalizing border crossings

Breaking with other Democrats running for the presidential nomination, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney said he does not support a proposal to decriminalize illegal border crossings.  

Pledges to repeal Section 1325 of Title 8 of the U.S. code — which makes “improper entry” into the U.S. a federal crime — have gained traction among some of the more progressive candidates in the large Democratic primary field, who say illegal entry into the country should be considered a civil offense instead.

During the first night of the Democratic debate in Miami, Obama administration Housing Secretary Julián Castro pressed fellow Texan Beto O’Rourke on his opposition to repealing the law. On the second night, all but one of the candidates indicated they backed a move to decriminalize border crossings. 

Although he disagrees with that proposal, Delaney, considered a moderate during his brief time in Congress, said he would it make it “illegal” for the government to separate migrant children from their parents. Under the controversial and now discontinued “zero tolerance” policy, the Trump administration used Section 1325 to prosecute thousands of migrant parents who crossed the southern border and forcibly separate them from their children. 

Delaney said migrant families and children should not be detained for protracted periods of time — or even at all. “I don’t want children to be detained long at all. I want to go the other way. We have to treat people who cross our borders with a measure of dignity. Right? It has to be reflective of our values,” he said. 

But the Maryland Democrat said the only way to solve the current surge of Central American families and unaccompanied children heading north — which is expected to dwindle during the hot summer months — is to provide long-term assistance to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, collectively known as the “Northern Triangle.”

The region has been plagued by deep-rooted political instability, suffocating poverty and rampant violence for decades. Recently, agriculture crops — the main livelihoods for many poor and working-class citizens — have also been destroyed in many areas due to severe weather made worse by climate change

Delaney said he would reverse President Trump’s decision to end U.S. foreign aid to these Central American countries, and organize a new initiative to tackle the most pressing issues in the region so people have the economic opportunities and safety necessary to sustain their families in their homeland. 

“When you listen to the stories from these people, you realize that everyone is leaving for the right reason,” he added. “They feel threatened, their children are threatened, and unless we do things to rebuild civil society in the three Central American countries, we’re going to continue to have this refugee crisis.”

Richard Escobedo contributed to this report. 

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