Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker would “virtually eliminate immigration detention” if elected, his campaign said on Tuesday, including ending the use of for-profit detention facilities and sharply limiting the time unaccompanied children spend in custody.
As president, Booker, a U.S. senator from New Jersey, plans to phase out contracts with private prison operators, shut down facilities that do not meet high standards of care, and reform the bond system in immigration court by prioritizing liberty for immigrants rather than detention.
Booker, 50, is among some two dozen Democrats seeking the Democratic nomination to take on U.S. President Donald Trump in next year’s election.
Trump has made clamping down on illegal immigration the centerpiece of his domestic policy agenda. He has railed against Central American migrants crossing into the United States from Mexico – many of whom are seeking refuge under U.S. asylum laws – and has sought to build a wall along vast portions of the southern border with Mexico.
But U.S. agencies have struggled to keep up with a surge of Central American families arriving at the border, straining resources and severely overcrowding facilities. Last week, lawyers asked a federal judge to intervene after they detailed several instances in which children were held in unsanitary, unsafe conditions.
In addition to targeting detention centers, Booker’s immigration plan would reverse the Trump administration’s decision to end protections for so-called “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review Trump’s decision next year. The program has remained in place pending court action.
Booker also would do away with a number of Trump administration rules intended to restrict asylum claims and refugees, including Trump’s entry ban for several Muslim-majority countries and a requirement that asylum seekers remain in Mexico until their U.S. court hearing, his campaign said.
The plan also calls for providing legal counsel to all immigrants. Currently, around two-thirds of immigrants face deportation proceedings without a lawyer, the campaign said.
Several other Democratic contenders have released their own immigration plans, including former Secretary of Housing Julian Castro, U.S. senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris and former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Bill Berkrot)