Nicole Narea, Vox, November 25, 2019
Julián Castro wasn’t on the Democratic debate stage on Wednesday night. And for those waiting to hear from Democrats about how they’re going to reverse President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, his absence was obvious.
Most candidates have stuck to broad statements denouncing, for example, the Trump administration’s practice of putting “kids in cages” on the border. Castro, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development and mayor of San Antonio, wants to put an end to that practice, too — but he also takes a more expansive view of what has gone wrong with America’s immigration system under Trump.
Castro has pushed his Democratic opponents to embrace his proposal to decriminalize the act of crossing the border without authorization by repealing section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act — one of the legal provisions that allowed the Trump administration to separate thousands of immigrant families in 2018.
He was also the first candidate to propose accepting those displaced by climate change as refugees and to visit the camps in Matamoros, Mexico, created by Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, under which more than 60,000 migrants have been sent back to Mexico to wait for decisions on their US asylum applications.
Even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose progressive bona fides on immigration have been questioned in the past, has put out an immigration plan that closely resembles Castro’s.
But while Castro has been a standard-bearer on immigration, his campaign is facing a do-or-die moment. He threatened to pull out of the race if he didn’t raise $800,000 in the final days of October, a goal he narrowly achieved. He failed to make the cut for the November debate — even though many Democrats, including Rep. Pramila Jayapal, believe his perspective on issues like immigration is critical on the stage.
He’s campaigning to get back on the debate stage in December, and his ideas on immigration might be one of his strongest arguments for why Democrats need him in the race. He saw success on Wednesday night, trending on Twitter and raising more dollars than he had over the prior two debates.
Nicole Narea: You clearly have made immigration a priority in your campaign; you were the first candidate to release an immigration plan. How do you think your candidacy has changed the way Democrats talk about immigration?
Julián Castro: There’s no question that we’ve helped shape the debate on immigration because I released my plan first, and because it was bold and represents a different vision on immigration than this president completely. It’s made other candidates have to grapple with the issue in a way that they may not have if we hadn’t been as quick and bold as we were.
My sense is a lot of candidates wanted to avoid that issue. They either wanted to pretend like it didn’t have to be addressed because they were afraid of it or even backpedal on the issue. I don’t believe that the best way to beat a bully like Donald Trump is to backpedal or to be quiet. It’s to go forward with your own strong vision for the future, and that’s what I’ve done.
Of course, the first debate was a good example of that, and the night after I was on — the way that the candidates answered the questions about section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act is just one example. But also the effort candidates have made to engage migrants at the border, immigration advocacy organizations — all of that has been amped up in part because of our team’s boldness on immigration.
Nicole Narea: That said, immigration still hasn’t featured that heavily in the Democratic debates since early on in the Democratic primary. So, I’m wondering what you think is missing right now from the Democrats’ conversation about immigration and what issues should we be looking at as we head to the general election.
Julián Castro: There’s a lot. One of them at the top of mind these days is DACA. The next president may be confronted with how to ensure that hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, or DACA recipients, are able to stay in the United States. That’s relatively easy because most of the candidates — maybe every candidate — have pledged to do something about that.
Harder is undoing the damage that Trump has done to asylum laws. Just this week, they started exercising one of the safe third country options. They continue to impose a Remain in Mexico program that is cruel and has subjected migrants on the Mexican side of the border to extortion and kidnapping and injury.
And then there’s all the thorny questions around what we’re going to do with ICE, how we’re going to change enforcement, what we’re going to do with the legal immigration system to improve it.
There’s a lot that’s missing from the conversation right now because it’s getting drowned out — you know, the clamor about impeachment. One of the things I’ve clearly seen — this being my first run for president — is issues will be hot for a certain amount of time. There’s this life cycle to the overall campaign. An issue will be hot, and then a couple months later, it will be like it never happened.
This president has been too cruel for us to treat it like it’s just an issue of the day. We need strong, steady leadership on this issue.
Nicole Narea: You’re running on a “People First” platform. How is that reflected in your immigration policy and how is it different from the way that other Democratic candidates are approaching the issue?
Julián Castro: I’ve been clear that I’m not going to criminalize desperation. We need to understand that these are human beings. They’re not a criminal record or an invader or an other. They’re human beings that are simply coming — like generations have before — in search of a better life.
That’s reflected completely in my policy, from eliminating section 1325 to making our immigration courts independent so that people actually get a more fair hearing and also providing them with counsel. Getting rid of those three- and 10-year bars, which put people in the worse kind of position of having to decide whether they’re going to take themselves away from their family so they can have a hope of becoming a citizen the legal way.
We need to treat people like human beings, with common sense and compassion instead of this cruelty that Donald Trump has imposed.
Nicole Narea: You’re a second-generation immigrant, the son of a Chicana activist, you would be the first Latino president. You’ve emphasized those aspects of your identity over the course of the campaign and you’ve even recently called out the primary process for putting an undue emphasis on states like Iowa and New Hampshire, which aren’t demographically representative of the general electorate.
What does the Democratic Party need to do to attract and support more candidates for political office like you?
Julián Castro: It begins with outreach to all of the different communities in our country. Outreach to try to get them to register to vote, investment in recruiting candidates to run for local office, state office, and federal office. The Democratic party needs to get better about actually reaching out and putting in the work and putting in the resources to register people, to turn them out and to encourage them to not only participate in the Democratic process but actually be policymakers in the process.
I think the Democratic Party takes that more seriously now than it used to. But there’s still a long way to go and my hope is that I can be a part of inspiring other people who are growing up like I did to get involved — not only to vote but also to run for office one day, to become leaders in their own right.
Nicole Narea: Is the Democratic Party’s view of the Latino vote nuanced or do you think there is some untapped political potential there?
Julián Castro: It’s getting better. I think they recognize that there are different parts of the Latino community, people of different national origin, of course, and different views according to geography.
The approach might be a little bit different if you’re dealing with Mexican Americans in Texas versus Venezuelan Americans in South Florida or Puerto Ricans in Orlando or ninth-generation Mexican Americans in Colorado. There’s a growing recognition and a growing nuanced approach. I’m confident that under [DNC chair] Tom Perez’s leadership it’s getting better.