On Wednesday, during the second night of the Democratic presidential debates in Detroit, former Vice President Joe Biden and former Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro engaged in a verbal altercation over illegal immigration.
While Castro promoted making illegal entry into the United States a "civil action," Biden stated that illegal border crossing (barring asylum seekers) is a "crime," and treating it as anything else would be unfair to those waiting to enter the United States through legal channels.
DON LEMON (Moderator): 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: Absolutely not. ... The fact is what the senator from New York talked about is seeking asylum. That woman, the women she spoke to are entitled to asylum. That is not crossing the border illegally. What we should do is flood the zone to make sure we have people to make those decisions quickly. With regard to the secretary's point, I already proposed and passed $750 million for Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to be able to change the circumstance why people fled in the first place.
In addition to that, we're in a circumstance where if in fact you say you can just cross the border, what do you say to all those people around the world who, in fact, want the same thing – to come to the United States and make their case – that they have to wait in line. The fact of the matter is, you should be able to – if you cross the border illegally, you should be able to be sent back. It's a crime. It's a crime, and it's not one that in fact...
LEMON: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Secretary Castro, please, your response?
CASTRO: Yeah, first of all, Mr. Vice President, it looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one of us hasn't. Let me begin by telling you – let me just start out by answering that question. My immigration plan would also fix the broken legal immigration system, because we do have a problem with that.
BIDEN: I agree.
CASTRO: Secondly, 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.
LEMON: Thank you, Secretary. Mr. Vice President, please, your response?
BIDEN: I have guts enough to say [that] his plan doesn't make sense. Here's the deal. 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. People should have to get in line. That's the problem. And the only reason this particular part of the law is being abused is because of Donald Trump. We should defeat Donald Trump and end this practice.
A poll of 1,346 adults (of whom 1,175 were registered voters) conducted by NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist in mid-July asked respondents if "decriminalizing illegal border crossings" was a "good idea" or a "bad idea."
27% said it was a "good idea," while 66% said it was a "bad idea." 7% were "unsure."
Broken down further, a plurality of Democrats (47%) indicated that decriminalizing illegal border crossings was a "bad idea." Even 41% of the "very liberal-liberal" group said the same.