Do Any of the 2020 Democrats Want to Abolish ICE? We Broke Down Their Immigration Plans.

Some have more robust plans than others. Some don't have any at all.
Some have more robust plans than others. Others don't have any at all.

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With migrant children being held in squalid conditions and others dying as they try to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, the 2020 presidential field can’t ignore the immigration crisis Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to end. And many of the candidates say the president’s policies are to blame.

Over the last four years, the Trump administration has implemented a number of punitive policies intended to curb immigration, but asylum seekers are still flocking to the U.S. in near-record numbers. They’re fleeing poverty and violence, only to find themselves packed into detention centers, sometimes without their children.


At the same time, the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. live under the threat of mass deportations.

Every contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination has come out against Trump’s hard-line immigration policies to some degree, and not a single one supports family separation, wants to restrict asylum protections, or has called for more deportations.

Many of the top Democratic candidates also have nearly identical views on issues like creating a pathway to citizenship, which would substantially reduce the number of people ICE can arrest and deport. The number of immigrants in ICE custody also recently hit a record-high 52,000. Some 2020 contenders have even suggested they’d defang the agency, which was instructed in 2017 to target “all removable aliens.” But none have said they would abolish ICE entirely, despite calls to do just that from the party's progressive wing.

But few of the candidates have released detailed plans explaining how they’d accomplish these goals — or their stances on more-granular immigration issues. Those who have, though, haven’t just rebuked Trump’s policies; they’ve argued for dismantling key parts of his system altogether.

Julián Castro

Pathway to citizenship: yes

Abolishing ICE: almost

Castro, who served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama, was the first 2020 Democrat to release a detailed immigration platform — and his is by far the most comprehensive.


The Texas native supports a pathway to citizenship for recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era policy that shields some undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children from deportation. He also wants to extend citizenship to DACA recipients’ parents, and people with Temporary Protected Status, a humanitarian program that gives people from certain countries temporary legal status and work authorization in the U.S., usually because of ongoing conflicts or natural disasters.

But Castro’s plan is bigger than one-time amnesty: It would fundamentally alter the immigration enforcement system.

Castro’s plan would repeal the section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that makes “illegal entry” a crime. Although migrants could still face deportation, they could no longer be criminally prosecuted. The Trump administration used those prosecutions to separate thousands of migrant families from their children in the spring and summer of 2018 by arguing that system couldn’t keep kids in the jails housing their parents.

His plan would also end immigrant detention in all but the most “serious cases.” When the government does detain immigrants, Castro would also prohibit agencies from using for-profit systems altogether.

Castro would end the 287(g) agreements, which essentially deputize and train cops to serve as immigration officers. And while he wouldn’t abolish ICE, Castro’s plan would dismantle the agency’s Enforcement and Removal Operations branch, which handles arrests and deportations. Some immigrants would still be deported under Castro’s plan, including those who found to not have a valid asylum claim.


Applying for asylum would also be easier under Castro’s plan, which would increase legal access for asylum seekers. (Since civil courts handle immigration cases, asylum seekers and other immigrants don’t have the right to a free, government-appointed lawyer.)

But Castro wouldn’t be able to achieve all of that via executive order, as Vox has pointed out. A lot of his proposals would require Congress to pass an immigration bill.

Beto O’Rourke

Pathway to citizenship: yes

Abolishing ICE: no, but reform

O’Rourke, a fourth-generation El Pasoan and a former member of the House of Representatives, has called his immigration plan “the most sweeping rewrite of our nation’s immigration and naturalization laws in a generation.” His plan would not only walk back the Trump administration’s signature policies, including family separation, but also reform the asylum application process.

He has pledged to issue an executive order that would end mandatory detention for asylum seekers, excluding those with criminal records. The executive order would also end for-profit immigrant detention altogether. O’Rourke’s plan would also reinstate the Central American Minors program, which let migrant children with a parent living in the U.S. apply for refugee status from their home countries.

O’ Rourke’s plan also wouldn’t abolish ICE, though it calls for additional training for agents and the creation of new independent oversight agencies to monitor both ICE and Customs and Border Protection.


Jay Inslee

Pathway to citizenship: yes

Abolishing ICE: no, but reform

The Washington governor released a comprehensive immigration plan in May that calls for an end to for-profit detention and a streamlined asylum process. His plan would also reduce the number of immigrants detained by ICE.

Inslee supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who pass a background check, have paid their taxes, and take “accredited courses in English and civics.” He’d reverse the deportation of veterans and certain other immigrants removed from the U.S. under Trump, including migrant parents whose children were taken from them as part of the family separation policy.

Like O’ Rourke, Inslee would also reinstate the Central American Minors program.

But Inslee, the “climate change candidate,” is the only Democrat who has linked immigration policy to climate change. His plan says rising global temperatures are an “urgent and immediate cause of the expanding global migration crisis.” According to Inslee’s immigration plan, millions of people — many of them in Central America — stand to lose their jobs and homes to worsening environmental conditions.

His plan would address that looming crisis by expanding aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Bernie Sanders

Pathway to citizenship: unclear

Abolishing ICE: no, but reform

At a Las Vegas town hall in May, Sanders said he would roll out a “comprehensive immigration reform plan” soon. That hasn’t happened yet, but he does have a brief list of policy proposals on his website, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and the creation of independent oversight agencies to monitor DHS.


Sanders also voted for the 2013 “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill that would have created a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and he has indicated that he’d support similar legislation again.

A spokesperson for Sanders’ campaign told VICE News that he would expand asylum for persecuted immigrants, including victims of domestic violence or gang activity and ensure immigrants in deportation proceedings have access to lawyers. Sanders would end the 287(g) agreements between federal immigration authorities and local law enforcement agencies, the spokesperson said.

In 2018, Sanders said the time had come to “abolish the cruel, dysfunctional immigration system we have today” — but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’d do away with ICE. Instead, Sanders would “fundamentally restructure” the agency, he told the Washington Post.

Cory Booker

Pathway to citizenship: supports

Abolishing ICE: no, but reform

Though Booker’s campaign hasn’t put out an immigration platform and did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment, the New Jersey senator has introduced several immigration bills since announcing his presidential bid.

In May, he introduced a bill that would block the 287(g) partnerships between ICE and local law enforcement agencies.

The previous month, he reintroduced the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, which would essentially roll back key parts of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act that laid the groundwork for the current immigration detention system.


That bill would also aim to end mandatory detention for immigrants, substantially reduce the bond rate for immigrants who do face detention, and end the federal government’s contracts with for-profit immigrant detention facilities within the next five years.

Most importantly, Booker’s legislation would require ICE officers to have a judicial warrant to arrest immigrants — effectively limiting its ability to detain people in the first place.

In an interview with MSNBC last week, Booker also said he would support an immigration plan that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Kamala Harris

Pathway to citizenship: yes

Abolishing ICE: no, but reform

Almost every leading 2020 Democrat supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but Harris is the only one who has pledged to make that happen via executive order. The California senator’s plan would essentially reinstate DACA without age restrictions and with a number of additional protections that would allow recipients to apply for green cards and, eventually, citizenship.

Unlike other proposals, though, Harris’ would apply to approximately 2 million young immigrants commonly referred to as DREAMers, not to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who currently live in the U.S.

In 2018, Harris said ICE needs to be “critically reexamine[d]” and rebuilt from the ground up, but she has been careful to distance herself from the “abolish ICE” movement.


Harris’ campaign did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.

Elizabeth Warren

Pathway to citizenship: yes

Abolishing ICE: no, but reform

For the candidate with a plan for everything, Warren has remained surprisingly quiet about her plans for the immigration system.

Back in 2013, the Massachusetts senator voted for the bipartisan immigration reform bill that would have created a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

In 2018, at the height of the family separation crisis, Warren said ICE should be replaced with an agency that “reflects our morality.” But in April, she told the Washington Post that instead of abolishing ICE, she thinks it should be “reorganized significantly.”

As recently as January, at a town hall in Iowa, Warren still wouldn’t provide many specifics: She said the U.S. needs “comprehensive immigration reform.” She also recently told HuffPost that she agrees with Castro’s plan to decriminalize illegal entry.

Warren’s campaign did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.

Pete Buttigieg

Pathway to citizenship: yes

Abolishing ICE: no, but reform

The South Bend, Indiana mayor hasn’t put out a specific immigration plan, but he supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who work, pay taxes, and contribute to the economy, according to his website.

He would also change the current ICE enforcement priorities. He doesn’t think ICE should be abolished, but he told the Washington Post that he’s in favor of “conducting a comprehensive review of ICE and [Customs and Border Protection]” and would consider restructuring the agencies.


Like other Democrats vying for the nomination, Buttigieg also supports additional “humanitarian relief for refugees,” though it’s unclear what a relief package would look like.

Buttigieg’s campaign did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.

Amy Klobuchar

Pathway to citizenship: yes

Abolishing ICE: no, but reform

Klobuchar hasn’t released an immigration proposal, but she supports a “pathway to earned citizenship,” according to her website. It’s unclear who would be covered by her definition of asylum, but her voting record may be a clue.

The Minnesota senator supported the 2013 “Gang of Eight” immigration bill, which included both asylum protections for undocumented immigrants and $40 billion in funding for border enforcement.

Klobuchar doesn’t support the abolition of ICE, but she told the Washington Post that she would redistribute some of its duties to other agencies.

Klobuchar’s campaign did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.

Joe Biden

Pathway to citizenship: yes

Abolishing ICE: unclear

The former vice president unveiled a vague immigration plan in a Miami Herald op-ed Monday. In addition to supporting a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, Biden supports a “streamline[d]” asylum process that “benefits legitimate claims of those fleeing persecution.”

He’s also in favor of providing aid to countries in Central America’s Northern Triangle to alleviate poverty and political instability in the region, two of the root causes of immigration.

Like other candidates, Biden has said he opposes a border wall but supports “smart investments in border technology,” though he’s given few specifics on what that would look like. He has also promised to stop the deportations of veterans.

Biden’s campaign did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.

Cover image: In this Oct. 22, 2018, photo U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents surround and detain a person during a raid in Richmond, Virginia. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)