July 26, 2019

Julian Castro

2020 presidential candidate and former HUD secretary Julian Castro joins Firing Line to discuss immigration policy and his breakout moment in the first Democratic debate. Castro explains why he is calling for the decriminalization of border crossings, and discusses the possibility of challenging Joe Biden on this issue when they share the stage at the next debate.

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He’s the 2020 candidate putting immigration at the center of his campaign who’s not Donald Trump, this week on ‘Firing Line.’

On January 20th, 2021, we’ll say adios to Donald Trump.

An identical twin who grew up in San Antonio, Texas, Julián Castro became the mayor of his hometown when he was only 34, just two generations after his grandmother had arrived in the United States as an orphan.
It was this speech that thrust him into the national spotlight.

Ours is a nation like no other, a place where great journeys can be made in a single generation.
No matter who you are or where you come from, the path is always forward.

He would go on to be the youngest member of President Obama’s cabinet.
Now Castro is looking to make history again as the first Latino president of the United States.
His signature issue, immigration.

If I were president today, I would sign an executive order that would get rid of Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, the ‘remain in Mexico’ policy, and the metering policy.

But will any of this deliver him the votes?

The Democrats want open borders, they want anybody they want, including MS-13, pouring into the country.

What does Julián Castro say now?

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Secretary Castro, welcome to ‘Firing Line.’

Thanks for having me.

You were the youngest member of President Obama’s cabinet when you became the Secretary for Housing and Urban Development.
And you were also the mayor of San Antonio, and now you’re running to be your party’s nominee for the presidency to take on Donald Trump.
And much like Donald Trump, the key issue that has distinguished you from your peers in that consideration set is immigration.
Though I think it’s safe to say that your stances on immigration are considerably different from Donald Trump’s.

Quite a different vision for it, yeah.

Why have you made immigration your key issue?

Really, two reasons.
First of all, thank you very much for having me.
There are two reasons for that.
Number one, this is an issue that’s close to my heart.
I grew up with a grandmother who had come over from Mexico when she was 7 years old.
She worked her whole life as a maid, a cook, and a babysitter ’cause she’d only gotten a 3rd- or 4th-grade education.
And to think, just two generations after my grandmother got here with almost nothing that one of her grandsons, my brother, Joaquin, is a member of the United States Congress and the other one is running for president of the United States.
That’s America.
That’s our country.
And the second reason is more political.
It’s that this president clearly believes that he’s gonna win this election on the backs of immigrants, by scapegoating them.
He has a very dark heart when it comes to immigration and immigrants.
And I want to give people a positive, alternative vision of what we can do to get immigration right.

Let’s talk about the border.
‘Cause that seems to be ground zero of the immigration debates right now.
There’s a crisis at the border.
Do you agree?

I believe that there’s a crisis of leadership, sure.

Do you believe that there’s a crisis, though, at the border?

If there is, it’s because this president has helped create that.
I’ll give you a great example of that.
They’ve enacted a policy called metering, which basically means that they’re playing games with people who come to our ports of entry, who want to claim asylum.


About a month ago now, there was a father and a daughter who died trying to cross the Rio Grande River, Oscar Martinez and his daughter, Valeria.
They tried to make that trek across the river because they had been waiting for weeks at one of those ports of entry and had been denied the ability to make their asylum claim.
So this president has made this situation at the border so much worse than it has to be.

However, metering did begin under the Obama administration.

Well, not in the numbers that you have today, right?
I don’t believe that we should be playing games with people who want to make their asylum claim, right?
And so this is part of the thing — part of the policy that I would change.

You really distinguished yourself in the first debate by drawing a contrast between a fellow Texan and yourself.
I’d like to take a look at that clip.

The reason that they’re separating these little children from their families is that they’re using section 1325 of that act, which criminalizes coming across the border, to incarcerate the parents and then separate them.
Some of us on this stage have called to end that section, to terminate it.
Some, like Congressman O’Rourke, have not.
And I want to challenge all of the candidates to do that.
I just think it’s a mistake, Beto.
I think it’s a mistake.

I helped to introduce legislation that would ensure that we don’t criminalize those who are seeking asylum and refuge in this country.
If you’re fleeing — If you’re fleeing desperation, then I want to make sure…
I’m talking about everybody else.
I’m still talking about everybody else.

But you’re looking at just one small part of this.
I’m talking about a comprehensive rewrite of our immigration laws.

That’s not true.

And if we do that, I don’t think it’s asking too much for people to follow our laws when they come to this country.

I’m talking about millions of folks — A lot of folks that are coming are not seeking asylum.
A lot of them are undocumented immigrants.

How’d it feel to have a moment like that on the stage?

Well, I felt good about it because it was about policy.
It wasn’t about personality.
I think what people could appreciate was, that was sort of the apex of what these debates should be about, an exchange of ideas, an argument about the direction that we should go in, in this case with regard to immigration policy.

So, 1325 is the section of the immigration law that says that crossing the border in an unauthorized way is a crime.

Is a misdemeanor.

It’s a misdemeanor.
You are for entirely decriminalizing crossings.

Yeah, I want to treat these the way that we treated them during the Ronald Reagan era, the Bill Clinton era.
This law was put into place in 1929, but until about 2004 in the George W. Bush administration, it wasn’t treated as a crime.
It was treated as a civil matter.

So then does that mean repealing the law, or does that mean just prosecuting it differently?

I don’t want to rely on the prosecutorial discretion — in other words, the goodwill — of a future administration.
I want to help guarantee that no future administration is gonna weaponize that section 1325A of the law the way that this administration has done.

I guess what I’m getting at, though, is, isn’t this — The problem, really, isn’t 1325.
The problem is the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, and what I hear you saying is, you don’t want 1325 there so that another Trump administration in the future has the ability to implement or read the law in as Draconian of way, in your view, as President Trump has.

That’s right.
And I also recognize that 1325 is unnecessary, because Reagan didn’t use it, because Bill Clinton didn’t really use it.
Because for 70, 60 years, these administrations didn’t use it even though it was there.
So, here’s what’s interesting to me.
I mean, as soon as you said this — right? — the next night, the majority of Democratic candidates came out and aligned themselves with your position.
What’s so interesting to me about the way this debate is developing in this contemporary moment is how different it is from Democrats in the past.
I want to show you a clip just to help you see that point that I’m making.

All Americans, not only in the states most heavily affected but in every place in this country, are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country.

Illegal immigration is wrong, plain and simple.

Protecting public safety and deporting dangerous criminals has been and will remain the top priority, but we are going to refocus our efforts where we can to make sure we do what it takes to keep our borders secure.

What has changed in the last few years?

Well, one thing that’s changed is Donald Trump.

So, he’s made it possible for policy on the left look to become more progressive in response to his restrictionism.

In response to his utter cruelty to little children and to their mothers and fathers.

The family separations you’re referring to.

In response to his racism, his bigotry, his outright appeal to white identity.


There’s something that’s been going on for the last four years since he launched his campaign.
He’s the biggest identity politician that we’ve seen over the last 50 years.

So he’s created a backlash.

He has created a backlash.
He’s created, I think, a consciousness in a lot of people about the fact that, you know, we can do this a lot better.

Were those Democrats previously wrong?

I think that, yeah, there’s no question that we could do things better, right?
You know, people don’t always start off where we should be in the beginning.
But, hey, I would certainly choose the people that are improving and want to go in the right direction over this president.

So, on your policy, if border crossings are decriminalized, at what point in the process does it become a crime?

Crossing the border would not be treated as a crime unless — and I pointed this out in the debate.
Look, if you’re human-trafficking, if you’re weapons-trafficking, if you’re drug-trafficking, that is a separate crime.
Then you’re gonna be charged with a crime.

What about not showing up for your court date?

If you don’t show up on your court date, then, yes, there are consequences.

And it’s a crime.

For instance, if you have a speeding ticket, for instance, and you fail to appear in court, repeatedly fail to appear in court, then, yes, that can turn into a crime.

So, there is no disincentive to come here, in other words.
You don’t want any disincentive in the process for people to come.

No, I mean, I disagree.
The disincentive that somebody is still subject to deportation.
Somebody is still subject to everything except that misdemeanor.
And this is the way that we treated it for 60 years, 70 years.

There’s somewhere between 10 million and 11 million unauthorized immigrants who are living amongst us, many of them as Americans, have been raised here.
We know many of them ourselves.
What is your plan for them?

I would put them, as long as they haven’t committed a serious crime, on a pathway to citizenship that they can earn.

There’s a new NPR and PBS poll that’s just out, and it suggests that decriminalizing border crossings is not particularly popular.
Only 27% of respondents overall think that decriminalizing the border is a good deal, but 45% of Democrats think so.
More Americans believe that our current levels of immigration are fine and shouldn’t be changed dramatically.
So, you’re in a great position for a Democratic primary but not for a general election.
How do you think about that?

Well, I think that I’m gonna try and lead, not follow.
And so, you know, even if you don’t agree with me, I think I have a plan that will get us to a place where we actually are seeing less people coming to the border.
And I have faith that enough people out there, no matter what their background is, that they are repulsed by how they see this president treating these migrants and they see that I have a better plan to deal with this than this president does.
Because his plan has completely failed.
I believe that, come election time, there are gonna be a lot of folks that remember that.

I’ve heard you say that your policy is not open borders.
Help me understand — Help the viewers understand.

To say that my policy is open borders is to say that Ronald Reagan had the same policy, to say that Bill Clinton had that policy, because that law, section 1325, was not enforced.
So, basically, they were treating this as a civil violation.
We should be clear that, under the civil violation, people are still subject to deportation, they still have to show up for their court appearances.
If they repeatedly don’t show up for their court appearances, then it can become a crime.

But then, how do we know if they haven’t showed up for their court appearances?
I mean, as you know, there’s this policy called ‘catch and release,’ which, I believe, you’re against detaining people, right?
You’re against detention.

So that’s a great question.
How do we actually do that?
At the end of the Obama administration, they had something called a Family Case Monitoring Program, and this program basically invested in sort of a caseworker model to closely keep tabs and follow and keep in touch with the folks that were out there, that needed to come back for their court appointments.
And it had a 90-something percent success rate.

And so — And would the majority of those people, if they came across the border illegally, be deported?

If somebody came across the border undocumented?

Yeah, in an undocumented way.

That’s a great question.
Most people — Most of the people right now who are asking for asylum are not granted asylum.


Most of the people who come over and are undocumented, some of them are able to apply for some sort of visa or other means that allows them to stay here, but the vast majority of folks are not able to stay here.

So, does that mean they would be deported?

There would still be deportations in the future, of course, sure.

Who gets deported, then?
How do you decide who gets on a pathway to staying here and who gets deported?

Well, I mean, in the past, the way that that was decided was with a timeframe.
If you had gotten here before a certain date, then you would be on a pathway to citizenship.
And when I think about the future and how we would deal with legislation on this or an executive order, that’s the way that I think about it.

Which is…?
We would handle it with a date certain.
If somebody was here before a certain date, then you would put them into this category of folks who would be on a pathway to citizenship.

And so everybody who’s coming across the border right now, crossing in an unauthorized way, would they be subject to deportation?

Well, it depends on what the date is that we would negotiate with Congress.
Yeah, it’s possible, sure.

So, it’s not that you would advertise that there’s a date.
But certainly, if you advertise it as a date — right?
It’s like it’s the way conservatives criticized Barack Obama from knowing when people are going to withdraw from Afghanistan.
If you know there’s a date, people could rush the border before then so they could get across it.
It just seems like there are a lot of variables.

Yeah, I think the way that it’s been thought of before is, ‘Okay.
Some amount of time where people came and they established themselves, they were here for a little bit of time, at least.
So what that date is, I mean, I wouldn’t say right now, but that’s generally the way the framework that we’ve used in instructing legislation, and I imagine that would be the approach in the future.

You’ve criticized the conditions of the detainees during the Trump administration.
We have seen photos that have come out of these detention centers that have been deeply troubling.
But I want to show you some other pictures.
Similar images of people crowding in detention facilities with mylar blankets around them, in suboptimal conditions.
And they’re images, you can see right here, from the Obama administration.

Yeah, no, and I’ve seen those.

The Obama administration, frankly, deported 3 million people in the course of eight years.
And it even earned President Obama the sort of pejorative ‘Deporter in Chief,’ to the extent that Donald Trump has deported less people.
How do you think about that now?

Well, two things.
First of all, yeah, I don’t care whether we’re talking about Democratic administrations or Republican administrations, what I want to make sure of is that people are treated with a basic level of respect and humanely and with common sense and compassion instead of cruelty.
The Obama administration did get better over time.
There were less deportations.
There was DACA.
But, you know, I think it’s also clear that, in a future administration, we can do things a lot better than the Trump administration and do things better than the Obama administration when it comes to this.

You’ve said — and this is a quote — ‘I have learned the lessons of the past.
It seems Vice President Biden hasn’t.’
What’d you mean by that?

Well, that was a conversation about section 1325 of the Immigration Nationality Act.
And I acknowledge that we can do things in a better way than we’ve done them in the past, whether we’re talking about a Democratic administration or a Republican administration.
And I’ve laid out a plan for how I would do that if I’m president.
And I hope that everybody will learn those lessons.

Yeah, well, 2013 was a real shame and a miss because the United States Congress passed — Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill, which would certainly fall short of your standard today, but in the process of sausage-making, nobody’s happy.
And it might have moved the ball forward had the Republican House been willing to vote on it.
And I wonder what you think about the role of assimilation as part of that debate.
How do you think about assimilation?
The reason I ask you, Mr. Secretary, is because you are from a Texas family.
You didn’t immigrate.
Your grandmother did.
And I think the role of assimilation really could ameliorate some of the understandable concerns that some Americans have in the immigration debates.
What is your view?

I think that assimilation happens, right?
I mean, my family is a good example of that.
There are plenty of other families of — Over the years, the generations of people from different countries that have come here.
That’s the thing.
I think there’s a misimpression among a lot of Americans about whether individuals who immigrate, whether documented or undocumented, want to learn English, want to fully participate in American life.
I mean, they love the country.
My grandmother learned to speak English.
Nobody was forcing her to speak English, but she wanted to learn how to speak English.

And the flip side is, they raised you speaking English, right?
Because they wanted you to speak English.

What I don’t get is that a lot of people assume the opposite.
They assume that folks want to be cliquish and that they don’t want to embrace, whether it’s learning English or other things.
I don’t think anything could be further from the truth.

In 1977, William F. Buckley Jr. had on this program the governor of Baja, and he was Governor Roberto de la Madrid, and they were discussing one of the elements that actually you talk about in your immigration plan, one of the key ideas behind it.
Let’s take a look.

…by which we can sell our products in the United States and, therefore, create jobs and industry in Mexico.

So, what this concept gets at is, the reason people are coming to the United States is for economic opportunity, and one of the things you’ve discussed in your platform is a Marshall Plan for Latin America, right?
What you’re trying to get at — By the way, it’s not Mexico anymore.
We’re dealing with the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, these other countries in Latin America where there is an economic pull to come here.
Tell us, what is a Marshall Plan for Latin America?

It means partnering, investing in a mutually beneficial way so that people can find opportunity there and be safe there so they don’t have to desperately come to the United States trying to find those things.
Of course, it means, are there ways that we can see investment that create opportunity for the people there that also benefit the United States?
As you know, we have foreign aid that we deliver to the Central American countries.
We have the Central American Regional Security Initiative.
I think we need to amp that up and that we need to focus, as well, on economic opportunity.

The economy has essentially been climbing in those three countries for the last couple of years and crime has gone down in those three countries, as well.
How do you square that with the influx of immigration at the southern border?

I don’t know that in those countries that that has been evenly distributed.
Just like the United States, right?
If you took a look at where economic opportunity happens in the United States, there are some places that have prospered a lot more than others.
And when you get to these places that these folks are coming from in these countries, Central American countries, a lot of them are deeply impoverished, rural communities in Central America.
So I think that a more nuanced analysis would reveal that a lot of the folks who are coming are desperate for economic opportunity.
There’s nothing for them right now.

After the presidential debates — I just want to go back and put a button on one part.
On the second night, they asked, about health-insurance plans and if their health-insurance plans would cover unauthorized immigrants.
And every single person, the 10 people on the stage, raised their hands.
‘The New York Post’ ran a cover the next day, with everybody raising their hand, and the caption was, ‘Who wants to lose the election?’
Is that policy — The real question there is, is that policy a general-election policy, one that can win for a general election?

I believe so.
I mean, is the policy of threatening nuclear war to another country on Twitter a policy that can win a general election?
Is the policy of putting kids on the floor, not giving them soap or a toothbrush or putting men behind bars and not giving them something to eat, is that a policy that can win the general election?
Look, we’re already giving undocumented immigrants healthcare.
We’re giving it to them in the most expensive place, which is the emergency room.
So, do the taxpayers ever just say, ‘You’re already paying for their healthcare, and you’re paying it forward in the most expensive way’? If we want to do it in a smarter way, what we would do is actually allow them right now to buy into the healthcare exchanges and engage in preventative care so that we don’t have to end up footing the bill.

Bernie Sanders is 33 years older than you.
Biden is 32 years older than you.
Is it time for a new generation to lead?

Well, what I hear out there when I go to Iowa, New Hampshire, my home state of Texas, California, is that people want a new generation of leadership.
They want new ideas.
They want a new approach.
I will say — I mean, I don’t think it’s necessarily only about age.
I think it’s about a new face and new ideas.
I actually believe that the most important thing for voters to sort through is somebody’s judgment.
Doesn’t matter whether you’re 38 years old or you’re 88 years old, what kind of judgment have you demonstrated?
That’s why I would say — I mean, this president is 73 years old now?
But take a look at his judgment — threatening people over Twitter, nuclear war, saying he’s gonna wipe Afghanistan off the face of the Earth.
Just bad judgment.
Doesn’t matter how young or old you are.

You say Sanders — even though Sanders is 33 years older than you, he has had some new ideas and he’s certainly infused the Democratic party with new ideas, certainly last time around, but he’s been critical of you.
He was critical of you when you were HUD secretary.
He wasn’t paying his staff the requisite $15 minimum wage on his campaign.
I mean, what do you think about that?

Well, I mean, I hope that he ends up paying his staffers the $15, right?
All I know is what we’re doing.
I promise that I would pay everybody at least a minimum wage of $15 an hour, and right now, we’re in negotiations with the Campaign Workers Guild, which is the union that represents our campaign workers, and we want to make sure that we get to this point where we have an agreement that is lock-solid, where we’re absolutely abiding by it.
So, yeah, I’m focused on my campaign there.
I hope all campaigns will do that.

I had no idea political campaigns could be unionized.
Man, I’ve been in the wrong party.

But, you know, I will say that it makes sense because so many of these staffers — You know, I mean, you have covered campaigns.
You’ve been around campaigns.

I’ve been on campaigns.

That’s the direction that these campaigns are going in.
And why not?

How do you handicap your own chances?

Getting better.
[ Chuckles ] Like, I know that, right now, I’m not near the front of the pack, but my vision for this campaign has always been to get stronger and stronger and stronger, not to be a flash-in-the-pan candidate.
And I started out, whether it was fundraising or polling, and I was way at the back of the pack, and now I’m starting to come up into the middle of the pack.
And I believe that I’m gonna do well again in the next debate and I can do well in the debate after that and so forth.
And by the time we get to February 3rd, when the Iowa caucus is, that I can be one of the front runners in the race.

What’s your strategy for the next debate?

You know, I want to speak to the American people about where we need to go in this country and talk about the contrast with Donald Trump and focus a lot on that.

More immigration?

I think that’s inevitable because that’s a hot topic, and Trump has made it a hot topic, and I’m glad to talk about.

Will you challenge Biden on decriminalization?

I think that’ll probably come up.
I don’t think I’m gonna have a choice.
I mean, I think people are gonna ask this question.
Sure, like, I have — Whatever happens in this campaign, I’m not gonna shy away from standing up for what I think is right for the country and doing right by the people who have been hurt by this president.
So, yes, I absolutely will defend that.
And I’ll make the contrast clear, whether it’s with Vice President Biden or with anybody else.

Julián Castro, thank you very much for coming on ‘Firing Line.’

Thanks for having me.

Thank you.

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