Watch CBS News

Second Democratic debate: Which candidates would decriminalize border crossings?

N.H. voters on Democratic debate
New Hampshire viewers say Warren had a strong night 02:13

Some of the Democrats vying for the party's presidential nomination were asked in the early rounds of the second primary debate on Tuesday whether crossing the border illegally should be decriminalized — a topic that has garnered attention in the wake of the first debate in Miami. 

Pledges to repeal Section 1325 of Title 8 of the U.S. code — which makes "improper entry" into the U.S. a federal misdemeanor crime — have gained traction among some of the more progressive candidates in the large Democratic primary field after Obama-era Housing Secretary Julián Castro pressed fellow Texan Beto O'Rourke on his opposition to repealing the law during the debate last month. 

Under the widely criticized and now discontinued "zero tolerance" policy, the Trump administration employed Section 1325 to prosecute thousands of migrant parents who crossed the southern border illegally and forcibly separate them from their children.   

Here's what some of the candidates had to say when pressed on the matter Tuesday:

Would decriminalize illegal border crossing

Elizabeth Warren: 

"Yes," she said, in response to the question, "Would you decriminalize illegal border crossings?" Warren called for an expansion of legal immigration, and a path to citizenship that encompasses more people than an approach that would allow so-called DREAMers — young undocumented immigrants — to obtain citizenship.

Bernie Sanders: 

"If a mother and a child walk thousands of miles on a dangerous path, in my view they are not criminals," he said. Sanders denounced President Trump for demonizing people through "his racism and his xenophobia."

Pete Buttigieg: 

The South Bend, Indiana mayor believes Section 1325 should be decriminalized in some cases. "If fraud is involved, then that's suitable for the criminal statute. If it's not, it should be handled under civil law," he said.  

Would not decriminalize illegal border crossing

Steve Bullock: 

"If we decriminalize entry, if we give healthcare to everyone, we'll have multiples people coming into the country," Bullock said. He argued that Mr. Trump's immigration policies are ripping families apart.

Beto O'Rourke:

The former Texas representative suggested that once immigration policies are changed for the better, the need to prosecute illegal border crossers would be decreased, but those who do break the law, should face criminal charges.  

"After we have waived citizenship fees for green card holders ... freed DREAMers of any fear of deportation, and stopped criminally prosecuting families and children for seeking asylum and refuge, and for-profit detention," and, O'Rourke added, provided assistance to Central America so that families don't have to make the long trek north, "then I expect that people that come here follow our laws, and we reserve the right to criminally prosecute them if they do not."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.