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California A.G. Becerra Says it’s Time to Decriminalize Illegal Immigration

— April 4, 2019

Becerra joins an unusual but growing trend among liberal politicians.

Late last week, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra took a nigh-unique position in mainstream politics, arguing that unauthorized immigration should be decriminalized.

“They are not criminals,” Becerra said in a Friday interview with the Huffington Post. “They haven’t committed a crime against someone, and they are not acting violently or in a way that’s harmful to people. And I would argue they are not harming people indirectly, either.”

The Post notes that the comments are unusual, in that they’re from California’s top law enforcement official. Even among Democrats and liberal politicians, the idea of dropping indictments for immigration offenses isn’t one commonly voiced.

Lately, though, the idea appears to be gaining momentum. According to the Huffington Post, several Democratic presidential candidates made similar suggestions. This week, nominee-hopeful Julian Castro proposed altering statutes that make illegal immigration a crime as well as a civil offense.

Castro’s candidate counterpart, Beto O’Rourke, followed suit, saying asylum-seekers and their family shouldn’t be prosecuted for attempting illegal entry.

But, by and large, Democrats have tended to criticize contemporary approaches to immigration enforcement without recommending a full-blown overhaul of extant processes. Doing so would probably feed into President Trump’s narrative: that dangerous criminals, cartel members and drugs are pouring across the border because liberals are willing to look the other way.

Becerra claims that’s not true. According to the attorney general, decriminalizing immigration doesn’t mean that unauthorized crossings and visa violations will go unpunished.

Texas state representative and 2020 presidential contender Beto O’Rourke has also advocated in favor of asylum-seekers not being criminally charged. Image via Flickr/user:Beto O’Rourke. (CCA-BY-2.0). For media / personal printout use only.

The Huffington Post’s take on Becerra’s comments make it seem almost as if the A.G. is primarily concerned with semantics. One way or another, Becerra claims, migrants break the law: removing criminal charges doesn’t require the alleviation of civil penalties.

Right now, Becerra says, migrants facing deportation are branded criminals, even if they’ve harmed no one.

“If you call them criminals,” Becerra said, “it’s a lot easier to get people to turn against them than if you call them undocumented immigrants.”

The Post adds that “brining charges against unauthorized border crossers is largely redundant. Virtually everyone convicted of illegal entry or re-entry gets shunted from federal criminal custody to Immigration and Customs enforcement to face deportation proceedings.”

Advocates of the system, notes the Huffington Post, simply believe the threat of criminal penalties adds an extra layer of deterrence.

And if the Trump administration has accomplished anything, it’s been the implementation of harsher, less humanitarian border policy. The White House has had to deal with masses of lawsuits from its executive travel bans, family separations and, most recently, declaration of national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border.

While the rhetoric isn’t likely to resonate outside the political left—and may seem to alienate some centrists—presidential candidates like O’Rourke want a return to a more principled border policy.

“These asylum-seekers—penniless, at wit’s end, after surviving three weeks on the road, very often with their children—then attempt to do what I think any human would do, which is to request asylum in between the ports of entry,” O’Rourke said. “We should not criminalize that.”


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