Reason Roundup

Biden Gets Pummeled for Obama's Ugly Immigration Record

Plus: Tulsi Gabbard is most searched candidate, Kirsten Gillibrand attacks Biden's record on women, and more...


Many top Democrats now favor decriminalizing "illegal entry." During the second night of the second round of Democratic Party 2020 debates, former Vice President Joe Biden was asked to answer for immigration policy under former President Barack Obama.

Moderator Don Lemon asked, "Vice President Biden, in the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly 800,000 immigrants were deported, far more than during President Trump's first two years. Would the higher deportation rates resume if you were president?"

Biden said "absolutely not" to that. But he also disagreed with many of his rivals about decriminalizing undocumented border crossings. "The fact of the matter is that, in fact, when people cross the border illegally, it is illegal to do it unless they're seeking asylum," said Biden. "People should have to get in line."

Democrats overall have come a long way from Obama's immigration policy since he left office. Both this round of debates and the first featured questions about whether unauthorized border crossings should be criminalized. And both times, former Housing Secretary Julián Castro has called for the repeal of Section 1325 of the Immigration Nationality Act. Last night, Castro also chastised Biden for not having "learned the lessons of the past."

Section 1325 is what makes entering the U.S. without permission a federal crime, rather than merely a civil infraction. As immigration reporter Dara Lind explained after the first 2020 debate,

Castro wants to get rid of it—so that being an unauthorized immigrant in the US would still be a civil offense but no longer a federal crime.

And he's pushing the rest of the Democratic field to join him.

In that first debate in June, only Beto O'Rouke opposed the repeal of Section 1325 among that night's debaters. "In a Democratic primary that has shown the party has shifted leftward on several issues since the Obama administration, this exchange was still remarkable," Lind commented. "In fiscal year 2016, immigration offenses—illegal entry and reentry chief among them—made up a majority of federal criminal prosecutions." (Emphasis mine.)

Last night, several candidates agreed with Castro, several candidates were unclear, and Biden and Michael Bennet emphatically disagreed. Here are the most relevant portions of their statements:

Joe Biden: "If you cross the border illegally, you should be able to be sent back. It's a crime."

Michael Bennet: "I disagree that we should decriminalize our border."

Cory Booker: "An unlawful crossing is an unlawful crossing, if you do it in the civil courts or if you do in the criminal courts. But the criminal courts is what is giving Donald Trump the ability to truly violate the human rights of people coming to our country….Doing it through the civil courts means that you won't need these awful detention facilities that I have been to."

Julian Castro: "The only way that we're going to guarantee that these kinds of family separations don't happen in the future is that we need to repeal this law. There's still going to be consequences if somebody crosses the border. It's a civil action. Also, we have 654 miles of fencing. We have thousands of personnel at the border. We have planes; we have boats; we have helicopters; we have security cameras….What we need are politicians that actually…have some guts on this issue."

Bill de Blasio: "Why are we even discussing on one level whether it's a civil penalty or a criminal penalty, when it's an American reality? And what we need is comprehensive immigration [reform], once and for all, to fix it."

Tulsi Gabbard: "We will have to stop separating children from their parents, make it so that it's easier for people to seek asylum in this country, make sure that we are securing our borders and making it so that people are able to use our legal immigration system by reforming those laws."

Kirsten Gillibrand: "I don't think we should have a law on the books that can be so misused. It should be a civil violation and we should make sure that we treat people humanely."

Kamala Harris: [At border detention facilities] "I saw children lined up single file based on gender being walked into barracks. The policies of this administration have been facilitated by laws on the books…that allow them to be incarcerated as though they've committed crimes. These children have not committed crimes…and should be not treated like criminals."

Jay Inslee: "We have to make America what it's always been, a place of refuge. We got to boost the number of people we accept. I'm proud of being the first governor saying, 'Send us your Syrian refugees.'"

Andrew Yang: "We can't always be focusing on some of the distressed stories. And if you go to a factory here in Michigan, you will not find wall-to-wall immigrants; you will find wall-to-wall robots and machines. Immigrants are being scapegoated for issues they have nothing to do with in our economy."

A full transcript of the debate is here.


  • Tulsi Gabbard was the most-searched candidate on Google in every state following Wednesday night's Democratic debate.

  • Kirsten Gillibrand tried to have her Biden-attack moment during Wednesday night's debate, criticizing the former vice president's record on women's issues. Biden looked baffled, saying she had always championed his work with women and been part of his efforts in the past. Indeed, in old tweets, Gillibrand praised Biden for things like his "unwavering commitment to combating violence against women."

  • Bill de Blasio took his closing speech time last night as an opportunity to promote, a site that announces de Blasio's plan to "tax the hell out of the super rich."
  • Columbus, Ohio, police "brought departmental charges on Wednesday against five officers who were involved in the arrest of Stormy Daniels at a strip club last year."