Sen. Bernie Sanders would revamp North American trade relationships and expand protections for workers as part of a sweeping new immigration plan.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate’s proposal released Thursday morning digs into more detail about the immigration planks he has outlined while competing with 16 rivals to face President Donald Trump. The Vermont senator said he would seek to expand protections for young undocumented migrants and their parents, temporarily halt deportations, decriminalize border crossings and “break up” the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection agencies, among a bevy of other measures.
The senator’s proposal ties trade and labor rights to immigration at a time when trade stands at the top of Trump’s economic agenda. The president aims to swiftly push his replacement of the North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress as Democrats express concerns that it will not do enough to protect workers, both in the U.S. and Mexico.
Sanders’ plan sets out sprawling goals on an issue that has repeatedly proven intractable in Congress. Here are some of the key points of the senator’s immigration proposal:
- Sanders said he would “negotiate trade deals that strengthen, not undermine, the rights of workers in the United States and abroad, and oppose any new agreement that do not meet adequate labor standards.” While the plan does not specifically say he would toss out Trump’s United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, he has opposed the deal as it currently stands, saying it will not go far enough to protect workers.
- The senator would also start a program to accept at least 50,000 migrants displaced by climate change during his first year in office.
- Sanders also says his signature universal health-care plan, “Medicare for All,” would “provide comprehensive care to everyone in America,” regardless of immigration status.
- Sanders aims to set up what his campaign calls a “whistleblower visa” to encourage immigrant workers to speak out against exploitative behavior by employers without fear of blowback or deportation. He would also seek to end workplace raids targeting undocumented workers. In addition, the senator would push to boost protections and bargaining power for farm and domestic workers, including by requiring a $15 per hour minimum wage, regardless of immigration status.
- He would use executive authority to push through several policies immediately after taking office. It would include a moratorium on deportations, ending construction of Trump’s border wall and the restriction on travel from several majority Muslim countries to the U.S., reuniting separated children and parents, and stopping the use of for-profit detention facilities.
- Sanders wants to expand upon Obama-era programs to protect migrants from deportation. He would give legal status to the 1.8 million young migrants eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era policy that Trump has pushed to end. DACA allows certain people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to be shielded from deportation for two years and allows them to work or get an education in the U.S. The Vermont senator would also aim to extend protections for parents of certain migrants.
- The presidential candidate would push Congress to pass a law establishing a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.
- Sanders would put unauthorized border crossings in the same category as overstaying a work visa, making it a civil rather than criminal violation.
- He would aim to expand immigration courts and make temporary shelter for migrants more humane. Sanders would also create a $14 billion federal grant program for legal defense for the needy immigrants.
- Seizing on a liberal priority, the presidential candidate would scrap ICE and CBP. Deportation and border enforcement functions would go to the Department of Justice, customs would fall to the Treasury Department and naturalization and citizenship would go to the State Department.
With the policy, Sanders wants to show a direct contrast from Trump, whom the senator accused of carrying out “horrific” policies such as the separation of migrant children from families and travel restrictions on people from several Muslim-majority countries. In a primary where Democrats have taken care to cast themselves as best equipped to handle labor issues, Sanders also proposed far-reaching measures to boost undocumented workers in the U.S.
“My father came to America as a refugee without a nickel in his pocket, to escape widespread anti-Semitism and find a better life,” Sanders said in a statement from his campaign. “As the proud son of an immigrant, I know that my father’s story is the story of so many Americans today. When I am in the White House we will stop the hatred towards our immigrant brothers and sisters, end family separation, and locking children up in cages.”
Democrats seeking the presidential nomination have lambasted Trump’s immigration policy, characterizing it as unnecessarily cruel. Trump won the White House in 2016 boosted by nativist rhetoric, promising to crack down on illegal immigration and build a wall on the entire U.S.-Mexico border (paid for by America’s southern neighbor).
But voters have increasingly given Trump poor marks on how he has handled immigration, particularly after backlash to his administration’s separation of migrant families last year.
While Democrats have uniformly blasted Trump’s policies, they have not agreed entirely on how to improve them. For instance, while leading candidates on the field’s left flank such as Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., want to repeal criminal penalties for border apprehensions, former Vice President Joe Biden does not want to take the same step.
Since he jumped into the presidential race earlier this year, Sanders has ranked among voters’ top choices for the Democratic nomination. He has promised sweeping structural change to hold corporations and the wealthy more accountable.
He stands in third place in an average of recent national Democratic primary polls, according to RealClearPolitics.