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Where Do the Candidates Stand on Accountable and Effective Enforcement


We asked the 2020 presidential candidates where they stood on accountable and effective enforcement:

  1. How would you improve immigration enforcement and ensure accountability over the agencies responsible for the enforcement of immigration law?

Here's where the candidates stand:

Undermines Accountable, Effective Enforcement No Position on Accountable, Effective Enforcement Supports Accountable, Effective Enforcement
Donald Trump

Donald Trump (R)

Joe Walsh

Joe Walsh (R)

Roque De La Fuente

Roque De La Fuente (R)

Mark Sanford

Mark Sanford (R)

William Weld

William Weld (R)

Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson (D)

Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang (D)

Michael Bennet

Michael Bennet (D)

Joe Biden

Joe Biden (D)

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg (D)

Cory Booker

Cory Booker (D)

Steve Bullock

Steve Bullock (D)

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg (D)

Julián Castro

Julián Castro (D)

John Delaney

John Delaney (D)

Tulsi Gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard (D)

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris (D)

Amy Klobuchar

Amy Klobuchar (D)

Wayne Messam

Wayne Messam (D)

Beto O'Rourke

Beto O'Rourke (D)

Deval Patrick

Deval Patrick (D)

Tim Ryan

Tim Ryan (D)

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders (D)

Joe Sestak

Joe Sestak (D)

Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer (D)

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren (D)


AILA's Position:

The United States needs a sensible immigration enforcement system that upholds the rule of law and is based on clearly articulated goals and priorities. Recognizing the unprecedented level of resources the federal government has committed to immigration enforcement—the combined budgets of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) exceed $20 billion—these agencies must be accountable and transparent to the public. Abuses and unlawful practices by agency personnel cannot be tolerated, and oversight mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that enforcement is conducted effectively and in a fair, humane manner consistent with the law. The excessive use of immigration detention—which has surpassed 50,000 detained on any given day and is increasingly applied to families and children—is unjustified and an unnecessary waste of American taxpayer dollars.

Candidates' Positions

The following Democratic candidates have set forth positions that would improve immigration enforcement and ensure it is conducted in an effective, fair, and humane manner that is accountable to the public: Michael Bennet, Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Cory Booker, Steve Bullock, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Wayne Messam, Beto O’Rourke, Deval Patrick, Tim Ryan, Bernie Sanders, Joe Sestak, Tom Steyer, and Elizabeth Warren. The following candidates have not set forth a plan to improve enforcement and ensure immigration enforcement agencies are accountable: Republicans Roque De La Fuente, Mark Sanford, and Bill Weld, and Democrats Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang. Donald Trump and Joe Walsh support positions that undermine the effective enforcement of immigration law and the accountability of enforcement agencies.

Candidates Who Support Accountable, Effective Enforcement:

Michael Bennet (D)

Sen. Bennet has cosponsored several bills that improve oversight of ICE and CBP. In 2018, he cosponsored S. 3227, the REUNITE Act, and S. 2937, the HELP Separated Children Act, which would improve the standards of care and treatment for children and families in detention. In 2019, he cosponsored S. 2113, the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act, which improves the standards of care and treatment for individuals in detention, improves the processing and access to relief for asylum seekers at initial screenings and court proceedings, and improves access to counsel for children, including counsel paid for by the government. He is also a sponsor of the 2019 Protecting Sensitive Locations Act, S. 2097, which would regulate immigration enforcement actions at churches, schools, and other sensitive locations.

Joe Biden (D)

On his campaign website, Mr. Biden says that he “will direct enforcement efforts toward threats to public safety and national security, while ensuring that individuals are treated with the due process to which they are entitled and their human rights are protected.” He “will end workplace raids to ensure that threats based on workers’ status do not interfere with their ability to organize and improve their wages and working conditions. He will also protect sensitive locations from immigration enforcement actions.” Mr. Biden pledges to “increase resources for training and demand transparency in and independent oversight over ICE and CBP’s activities.”

Michael Bloomberg (D)

During his tenure as New York Mayor, Mr. Bloomberg signed legislation that limited the city’s cooperation with ICE under the Secure Communities program. In a 2017 op-ed, he spoke in support of biometric identification for all legal workers. In the same piece, he wrote that “The problem is that politicians have sold the public on the idea that simple solutions -- like a giant wall or a massive deportation force -- are all we need. The latest simple solution is just the worst one yet.”

Cory Booker (D)

In response to the AILA Survey, Sen. Booker wrote:

We are now spending unprecedented amounts of money on immigration enforcement--the budgets of ICE and CBP are more than $20 billion. Despite these resources, ICE overspends its budget--routinely borrowing money from other DHS programs, such as FEMA--to needlessly detain more and more children and families. And it’s not just ICE that operates in a way that does not reflect our values, the information coming out about the culture at CBP is equally concerning. We need to have hearings and real oversight into both of these agencies and ensure they are achieving their intended purpose before we continue pouring billions of dollars into them. I will also end ICE partnerships with local law enforcement and ensure local and state law enforcement are focused on keeping their communities safe and pursuing serious threats.

Sen. Booker’s campaign website says he would “increase accountability and transparency for detention facilities beginning on Day One, including directing DHS to permit access for independent experts and monitors to CBP facilities, improve the inspections process, require random spot checks of detention facilities, and the prompt investigation of and published reports on all deaths of immigrants in its custody.” Additionally, “Cory would also end programs like 287(g) agreements used by ICE to allow local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law, and create ombudsman offices at ICE and CBP to monitor abusive behavior.”

In 2019, Mr. Booker sponsored S. 2151, which would prohibit ICE and CBP officers from wearing clothing displaying the word “police.” He is also a sponsor of the 2019 Protecting Sensitive Locations Act, S. 2097. He has cosponsored several other bills that address the standards, treatment, and legal rights of those apprehended, detained, and subject to removal by DHS: in 2018, S. 3036 and S. 3112, and in 2019, S. 388, S. 1243, S. 2219, and S. 2396.

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Steve Bullock (D)

Gov. Bullock’s website states that he would “re-focus the mission of ICE so that the agency focuses on deporting serious criminals, not kids.” Campaign website

Pete Buttigieg (D)

In response to the AILA Survey, Mayor Buttigieg wrote:

We need to re-establish enforcement priorities, so that ICE and CBP are not wasting valuable resources tearing apart families and communities for no discernible public safety benefit. We also need proper oversight of our enforcement agencies and an accounting for the wrongdoing perpetrated by the current Administration. We will conduct a thorough investigation into ICE and CBP and hold anyone found to have violated the rights of immigrants or people advocating on behalf of immigrants to account. We will also determine whether certain responsibilities of the agencies ought to be transferred to different agencies.

Julián Castro (D)

In his response to the AILA Survey, Mr. Castro stated:

The purpose of our immigration enforcement to uphold the rule of law based on clearly articulated goals and priorities. We must recognize that those goals and priorities that our enforcement systems was created on are no longer there. First, right now there is an unprecedented level of resources the federal government committed to immigration enforcement. With such a commitment of resources, there must be more accountability and transparency to the public how they are spending taxpayer resources.

In my People First Immigration plan, I propose ending agreements Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act and other such agreements between federal immigration enforcement agencies and state and local entities that erode trust between communities and local police and ICE detainers.

I would also reconstitute the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement by splitting the agency in half and re-assigning enforcement functions, including within the Enforcement and Removal Operations to other agencies, such as the Department of Justice.

Lastly, there must be a thorough investigation of ICE, CBP, and DOE’s rule in family separation policies instituted by the Trump administration.

Mr. Castro’s campaign website states that he will “reconstitute the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) by splitting the agency in half and re-assigning enforcement functions within the Enforcement and Removal Operations to other agencies, including the Department of Justice. There must be a thorough investigation of ICE, Customs and Border Protection, and the Department of Justice’s role in family separation policies instituted by the Trump administration.” He will “reprioritize Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to focus its efforts on border-related activities including drug and human trafficking, rather than law enforcement activities in the interior of the United States.” Mr. Castro proposes to “extend Department of Justice civil rights jurisdiction to CBP, and adopt best practices employed in law enforcement, including body-worn cameras and strong accountability policies.”

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John Delaney (D)

In 2018, Rep. Delaney cosponsored H.R. 6135, which would prohibit the removal of children from their parents in certain immigration enforcement actions. He has joined several letters expressing opposition to current policies regarding the treatment and detention of children and families apprehended at the border. In 2013, he cosponsored H.R. 15, a comprehensive reform bill which would have established several oversight and accountability measures. The Washington Post reported Rep. Delaney would support a return to President Obama’s 2014 deportation policy if it focused on convicted criminal and national security threats, but not on recent border crossers.

Tulsi Gabbard (D)

In 2019, Rep. Gabbard cosponsored H.R. 1013, the ICE and CBP Body Camera Accountability Act. In 2017, Rep. Gabbard cosponsored H.R. 3227, which required DHS to conduct annual inspections and oversight of detention facilities. In 2013, she cosponsored H.R. 15, a comprehensive reform bill which would have established several oversight and accountability measures.

Kamala Harris (D)

Sen. Harris’ campaign website states that “we must fundamentally overhaul our immigration enforcement policies and practices—they are cruel and out of control.” She proposes to “increase oversight of agencies like Customs and Border Protection, and focus enforcement on increasing public safety, not on tearing apart immigrant families.”

In 2019, she cosponsored S. 1440, which would discontinue the 287(g) program that involved state and local entities in immigration enforcement. In 2019, she cosponsored the Protecting Sensitive Locations Act, S. 2097. She has cosponsored several bills that address the standards, treatment, and legal rights of those apprehended, detained, and subject to removal by DHS: in 2018, S. 3036, and in 2019, S. 388, S. 1243, S. 2219, and S. 2396.

Amy Klobuchar (D)

Sen. Klobuchar has cosponsored several bills to increase the oversight of the apprehension, detention, and removal of unaccompanied children: in 2011, S. 1399; in 2018, S. 2397, S. 3036, and S. 3227; and in 2019, S. 388 and S. 2113. She is also a sponsor of the 2019 Protecting Sensitive Locations Act, S. 2097.

Wayne Messam (D)

Mr. Messam’s campaign website states:

As a first-generation American, small business owner and Mayor of one of Florida’s most diverse communities, this issue is deeply personal. My parents immigrated to this country from Jamaica with no more than a fifth-grade education. My mom was a cook and did domestic work while my dad spent over a decade cutting sugar cane — backbreaking labor in the Florida heat. Because of their sacrifice and the opportunities of this great country, I received the opportunity to inherit their American Dream and take on tough fights as mayor, including creating designated safe zones for immigrants and directing city law enforcement to not support ICE’s abusive efforts to deport our residents, unless they are in possession of a judicial warrant. I have seen this firsthand in Miramar, which has an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) check-in office within the city limits. It has been frustrating as community members and local families are subjected to degrading conditions, including lack of restroom facilities, shelter from the elements, parking and adequate sitting and waiting areas. That’s why our city passed a resolution demanding ICE improve these conditions. What this comes down to is human dignity.

Beto O’Rourke (D)

Mr. O’Rourke will “ensure lawful and humane conditions at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities, including access to medical treatment, mental health care, social workers, and translators, and restore orderly and prompt processing of people seeking refuge under our nation’s asylum laws.” In his first 100 days, he will support legislation to “ensure transparency and accountability in law enforcement, including ICE and CBP.” He also supports creating “an independent Border Oversight Commission, an Ombudsman, and Border Community Liaison office” and to increase accountability from ICE and CBP personnel through improved training and continued education courses.” – Campaign website

Deval Patrick (D)

As governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Patrick opted out of participating in the Secure Communities program. He does not call for the abolishment of ICE, but has called its policies “sadistic” and stated in 2019 that “we clearly need some alternative to the policies in ICE, whether you call it ICE or call it something else." Mr. Patrick supports redistributing ICE’s responsibilities to other federal agencies.

Tim Ryan (D)

In response to the AILA Survey, Rep. Ryan wrote:

Under my administration Congress would enact immigration reform legislation that would revamp the current broken immigration system, transforming the 11 million undocumented immigrants into documented immigrants. Under my administration immigration enforcement focus on bad-actor employers who exploit and abuse undocumented workers, not on hard working immigrants seeking to build a better life for their families and themselves. We need to create a level playing field in this country, focused on protecting families, providing businesses the tools they need to complete in a global economy and a robust asylum system which protects vulnerable refugees in need of safe haven.

Bernie Sanders (D)

In response to the AILA Survey, Sen. Sanders wrote:

Bernie voted against the creation of DHS in 2002, and it was the right vote. Trump has used DHS, and its components ICE and CBP, as part of a deportation and detention machine. Bernie will dismantle that machine when in office. He will fundamentally restructure ICE and the other agencies responsible for our broken immigration and border enforcement system. Under a Bernie Sanders presidency, immigration agencies would not go after hard working immigrant families, as they do now under Trump. Instead, these agencies will serve a humanitarian mission grounded in civil and human rights. Bernie believes we can have a secure border without a militarized force and inhumane detention and deportation machine. He will prioritize enforcement on stemming the flow of illegal drugs at ports of entry, stopping human trafficking, and enforcing labor standards.

As president, Bernie will instruct DOJ to drop any litigation or funding restrictions relating to sanctuary cities. He will end programs that turn local police forces into immigration officers and end the workplace raids used to terrorize vulnerable communities and workers trying to put food on the table for their families. In too many instances, deportation programs like the 287(g) program, the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), and the Criminal Alien Program have unjustly turned local law enforcement officials into immigration officers. These programs do not make us safer and they threaten vulnerable communities. Racial profiling and the criminalization of communities of color form the foundation of these deportation programs, and they will be eliminated under a Sanders Administration.

Sen. Sanders’ campaign website states: “We need to completely reshape and reform our immigration enforcement system, including fundamentally restructuring ICE, an agency Senator Sanders voted against creating,” and “establish standards for independent oversight of relevant agencies within DHS.”

In 2019, Sen. Sanders cosponsored S. 1440, which would discontinue the 287(g) program which involved state and local entities in immigration enforcement. He has cosponsored bills that address the standards, treatment, and legal rights of children and adults apprehended, detained, and subject to removal by DHS: in 2018, S. 3036 and S. 3112, and in 2019, S. 388. In 2017, he cosponsored S. 54, which prohibits the creation of a national security or immigration registry program.

In Sen. Sanders’ immigration platform, he states that he will “put a moratorium on deportations until a thorough audit of current and past practices and policies is complete” and “end the “Constitution-free zone” within 100 miles of the border.” He further elaborates on his position on DHS, ICE and CBP by stating that he will “break up ICE and CBP and redistribute their functions to their proper authorities.” His plan states that “deportation, enforcement, border and investigatory authority would return to the Department of Justice, customs authority would return to the Treasury Department, and authority would return to the Treasury Department.”

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Joe Sestak (D)

In response to the AILA Survey, Mr. Sestak wrote:

As President, I would take an active role in overseeing immigration enforcement across the United States. Most importantly, I would appoint leadership of the various agencies involved whom I am certain would deal with immigrants with the compassion and dignity they deserve, while enforcing the laws of the land. Agency culture is determined from the top down, so who is appointed matters a great deal. From the White House, I will lead an administration that encourages and is grateful to whistleblowers who keep their colleagues accountable by speaking the truth, even at great personal or professional cost. When the government is not accountable to the people, abuses are inevitable. I will have zero tolerance for corruption and malfeasance.

In 2010, Rep. Sestak cosponsored H.R. 1215, the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act, which set forth immigration detention standards. He has also said that he would like to “increase oversight to protect against abuses.” – Washington Post

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Tom Steyer (D)

On his campaign website, Mr. Steyer pledges to reform ICE, CBP, and USCIS through “an inclusive, community-led process.” He “will reform these agencies to reflect our best values and refocus their actions on their core mission of national security and fairly processing immigration claims.” Furthermore, he “will mandate strong accountability and independent oversight so their misuse of power can never be repeated. He will have a zero tolerance policy for hateful acts by those wearing the uniform of the U.S. government and will pursue justice through legal action against those responsible for human rights violations under the Trump Administration.”

Elizabeth Warren (D)

In response to the AILA Survey, Sen. Warren wrote:

Our immigration agencies should protect Americans and uphold the rule of law, not pursue punitive anti-immigrant policies that target communities of color. My plan for a fair and welcoming immigration system also includes decriminalizing migration and refocusing enforcement on serious criminal activity. Entering the country without authorization has always been a violation of civil immigration law, but thanks to a former segregationist Senator, it’s also a criminal violation. This additional criminal provision is totally unnecessary for border security, and for a century, it was rarely enforced. But since the early 2000s, it has been used to build and sustain a massive immigration detention complex. This obsessive focus ties up federal prosecutors and overwhelms federal courts. It’s costly and unnecessary. And under Trump, it has become increasingly abusive. We should repeal this criminal prohibition to prevent future abuse.

As president, I will immediately issue guidance to end criminal prosecutions for simple administrative immigration violations; end Operation Streamline, which subjects migrants to mass prosecutions; and refocus our limited resources on actual criminals and real threats to the United States. I will also issue prosecutorial guidance to prioritize immigration cases with security concerns, and make sure government attorneys are properly exercising their discretion for individuals who pose no public safety risk.

Additionally I will separate law enforcement from immigration enforcement. As President, I’ll put in place strict guidelines to protect sensitive locations like schools, medical facilities, and courthouses from enforcement actions. I’ll expand programs that grant protections to immigrant victims of serious crimes who come forward and assist law enforcement. And I’ll end programs like 287(g) and “Secure Communities” that force local cops to enforce federal immigration laws so they can focus on effectively serving their communities.

I’ll hold immigration enforcement to the same due process standards as other law enforcement agencies—no more warrantless arrests or stops deep in the interior of our country. I’ll reshape CBP and ICE from top to bottom, focusing their efforts on homeland security efforts like screening cargo, identifying counterfeit goods, and preventing smuggling and trafficking. And to change the culture, I’ll insist on transparency and strengthen the authorities of independent internal watchdogs to prevent future abuses.

I will also create accountability for the immigration abuses perpetrated during the Trump Era. President Trump and his Administration are comfortable looking the other way while criminal abuses of immigrants pile up. When I am President, I will not. I’ll designate a Justice Department task force to investigate accusations of serious violations—including medical neglect and physical and sexual assaults of detained immigrants—and give it independent authority to pursue any substantiated criminal allegations. Let me be clear: if you are violating the basic rights of immigrants, now or in the future, a Warren administration will hold you accountable.

Sen Warren is also a sponsor of several enforcement reform bills: in 2019, S. 2097, S.388, S. 1243, S. 2219, and S. 2396; in 2018, S. 3112; and in 2017, S. 54.

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Candidates with No Position on Accountable and Effective Enforcement:

The following candidates have not set forth a plan to improve enforcement and ensure immigration enforcement agencies are accountable: Republicans Roque De La Fuente, Mark Sanford, and Bill Weld, and Democrats Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang.


Candidates Who Undermine Accountable and Effective Enforcement:

Donald Trump (R)

Since taking office, President Trump has implemented policies that touch every aspect of the enforcement and removal process. These policies have expanded the very definition of who is subject to enforcement and encouraged indiscriminate enforcement against anyone who is undocumented. On the ground, the administration has increased the use of aggressive enforcement tactics that are causing fear and intimidation in communities. In 2019, the administration promulgated a rule to expand the use of expedited removal. The administration has also restricted the exercise of prosecutorial discretion that may be warranted in compelling cases. He has altered procedures in immigration court that will severely undermine due process and the integrity of the courts. Taken together, these reforms constitute a system-wide escalation of the federal government’s authority and capacity to apprehend, detain, and deport far more noncitizens, often at the expense of fundamental principles of due process and fairness. See AILA Report, Cogs in the Deportation Machine.

Joe Walsh (R)

Mr. Walsh has argued that President Trump has not done enough in terms of enforcement and stated in an August 2019 PBS Newshour interview that he would be “tougher” [than President Trump] on people that try to enter the United States illegally. He pledged support for Arizona’s SB 1070 law, which effectively authorized police to engage in racial profiling against immigrants and permitted citizens to sue any state or local agency if they believed it failed to enforce the law.