WASHINGTON — One Democratic candidate would post asylum officers at the border to decide immigration cases on the spot. Others would create an entirely new court system outside the Justice Department. Some have suggested reinstating a program that would allow Central American minors to apply for refugee status in their home countries.
The Democrats running for the White House do not lack ideas on the hot-button issues of immigration and border control. But as they prepare to take the stage on Thursday for their debate in Houston, most would rather talk about the hard-line policies of the man they seek to replace, President Trump.
Revealing specific details on immigration could undoubtedly backfire because “it is in many ways the third rail in our politics” now, said Doris Meisner, a former commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the agency that was responsible for immigration enforcement in the United States before ceasing operations in 2003.
But, she added: “It’s not enough to be against things. You have to figure out what you’re for, and you have to make a case for why you think things should be different.”
An examination of the candidates’ immigration policies and stances shows they have spent most of their efforts on dismantling the Trump administration’s policies, without really laying out how, if elected, they would handle illegal border crossings, eliminate a growing immigration court backlog, direct immigration enforcement or address the root causes of migration from Central America.
Four of the leading candidates who will debate on Thursday — former Representative Beto O’Rourke, Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Housing Secretary Julián Castro and Senator Cory Booker — have released plans touching on each of those questions. The former technology executive Andrew Yang and Senator Kamala Harris have issued more limited plans, with Ms. Harris’s focusing on providing protections for young immigrants brought here illegally as children, known as Dreamers. Campaign advisers for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Bernie Sanders said the candidates were set to issue plans in the coming weeks.
By Zolan Kanno-Youngs for THE NEW YORK TIMES
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