During the first Democratic presidential debate Wednesday in Miami, candidates Julian Castro and Beto O'Rourke of Texas got into a heated debate about whether and how to decriminalize illegal immigration into the U.S.
DIAZ-BALART: If I could, I'm sorry. (SPEAKING IN SPANISH) What would you do, Congressman, day one at the White House??
O'ROURKE: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH) We would not turn back Valeria and her father, Oscar. We would accept them into this country and follow our own asylum laws. We would not build walls. We would not put kids in cages. In fact, we would spare no expense to reunite the families that have been separated already...
O'ROURKE: ... and we would not criminally prosecute any family who is fleeing violence and persecution...
CASTRO: ... repeal of Section 1325.
O'ROURKE: We would make sure...
DIAZ-BALART: Secretary, let him finish. And I will give you...
DIAZ-BALART: But let him finish. Let him finish.
O'ROURKE: We would not detain any family fleeing violence, in fact, fleeing the deadliest countries on the face of the planet today. We would implement a family case management program so they could be cared for in the community at a fraction of the cost. And then we would rewrite our immigration laws in our own image, free Dreamers forever from any fear of deportation by making them U.S. citizens here in this country, invest in solutions in Central America, work with regional stakeholders so there's no reason to make that 2,000 mile journey to this country.
DIAZ-BALART: Thank you.
Secretary, I'll give you 30 seconds.
CASTRO: Let's be very clear. The reason that they're separating these little children from their families is that they're using Section 1325 of that act which criminalizes coming across the border to incarcerate the parents and then separate them.
Some of us on this stage have called to end that section, to terminate it. Some, like Congressman O'Rourke, have not. And I want to challenge all of the candidate to do that.
CASTRO: I just think it's a mistake, Beto. I think it's a mistake. And I think that -- that if you truly want to change the system, that we've got to repeal that section. If not...
DIAZ-BALART: Thank you.
CASTRO: ... then it might as well be the same policy.
O'ROURKE: Let me respond to this very briefly. As a member of a Congress, I helped to introduce legislation that would ensure that we don't criminalize those who are seeking asylum and refuge in this country.
CASTRO: I'm not talking about -- I'm not talking about the ones that are seeking asylum.
O'ROURKE: If you're fleeing -- if you're fleeing desperation, then I want to make sure...
CASTRO: I'm talking about -- I'm talking about everybody else.
O'ROURKE: ... I want to make sure you are treated with respect.
CASTRO: I'm still talking about everybody else.
O'ROURKE: But you're looking at just one small part of this. I'm talking about a comprehensive rewrite of our immigration laws.
CASTRO: That's not true.
O'ROURKE: And if you do that, I don't think it's asking too much for people to follow our laws when they come to this country.
CASTRO: That's actually not true. I'm talking about millions of folks -- a lot of folks that are coming are not seeking asylum. A lot of them are undocumented immigrants, right? And you said recently that the reason you didn't want to repeal Section 1325 was because you were concerned about human trafficking and drug trafficking.
But let me tell you what: Section 18, title 18 of the U.S. code, title 21 and title 22, already cover human trafficking.
CASTRO: I think that you should do your homework on this issue. If you did your homework on this issue, you would know that we should repeal this section.
DIAZ-BALART: This is an issue that we should and could be talking about for a long time, and we will for a long time.
DELANEY: Can we talk about the conditions about why people are coming here?
DIAZ-BALART: Let's -- Lester -- Lester -- I'm sorry, Savannah -- I know, it's just -- we could go on.
DELANEY: But rather than talk about specific provisions, we really have to talk about why these people are coming to our country...
GUTHRIE: You'll get your chance.