Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke unveiled a wide-ranging immigration plan Wednesday designed to create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented U.S. residents. It includes an immediate path for "Dreamers" and those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
O'Rourke's plan also calls for easing the naturalization process for some 9 million immigrants already eligible for citizenship.
The former Texas congressman said the series of legislative and executive actions is "the most sweeping rewrite of our nation's immigration and naturalization laws in a generation."
"This innovative plan overcomes a generation of inaction to finally rewrite our immigration laws in our own image" O'Rourke said in a statement released by his campaign. "Coming from a city of immigrants (El Paso), I've seen the incredible contributions of immigrants to our communities and local economies."
O'Rourke's plan rescinds the Trump administration policy of returning asylum seekers at the southern border to Mexico while they wait for their claims to be processed. It also calls for the reinstatement of the Central American Minors program, which would allow children with parents in the U.S. to apply for refugee status in their home countries.
According to the campaign, O'Rourke's plan would increase staffing in the asylum system, including a deployment of up to 2,000 lawyers to the border.
During an interview on the CBS News broadcast "Face the Nation" Sunday, O'Rourke told moderator Margaret Brennan the roughly 16,000 migrants in U.S. detention facilities are comprised mostly of asylum seekers and need to be connected with case workers.
"We know from past history that when we connect them with case managers in a community, they have a 99% chance of meeting their court dates and their appointments with ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)," O'Rourke told Brennan. "And it costs us a tenth of what we pay to keep them in detention and in custody."
While O'Rourke calls for an increase in border security personnel and investing in border security technology, the plan seeks an immediate halt in border wall construction. The campaign says as president, O'Rourke's "first budget, and every budget, will include zero dollars for this unnecessary wall."
With an eye on transparency and accountability, O'Rourke would create an independent Border Oversight Commission, create a uniform process for tracking and preventing migrant deaths and improve training and education for ICE and CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) personnel.
O'Rourke would also invest $5 billion in the "Northern Triangle" region (the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) "to fight violence and poverty and bolster our shared security and prosperity." The plan, however, calls on politicians and elites in the region to "do their part."
"Real change will require their full engagement," O'Rourke says. "If they want access to the United States – to do business, to vacation, to send their kids to college – they must commit to ending corruption and self- dealing."
O'Rourke joins fellow Democratic presidential candidate and fellow Texan Julián Castro, a former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as the only two Democratic candidates in the crowded field to release immigration blueprints.