Booker Promises to Mostly End Immigration Detention

New plan would create ‘presumption of liberty’ for detained illegal immigrants

Sen. Cory Booker / Getty Images

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) announced a sweeping immigration proposal Tuesday that would reduce immigration enforcement and increase the inflow of asylum-seekers.

Booker's immigration plan is designed to avoid Congress, with many of his proposed changes implemented on day one of his presidency through executive orders. He is the second Democratic candidate to publish an immigration plan, with former HUD Secretary Julián Castro offering his own in April.

Booker's proposal comes as even Democrats have acknowledged the crisis at the southwestern border. With thousands in custody, U.S. Customs and Border Protection resources are stretched beyond their breaking point and detention conditions have deteriorated. Meanwhile, the Congressional Democratic caucus is divided over whether to blame a lack of funding or willful negligence on the part of President Donald Trump's administration.

With immigration detention at the center of the public consciousness, Booker's plan is primarily focused on moving as many detained illegal immigrants as possible into "alternative" detention arrangements. It promises to "virtually eliminate our nation's reliance on immigration incarceration," primarily by phasing out privately run immigration detention facilities, which oversee 65 percent of detained individuals. Booker would also reform Department of Homeland Security procedures to create a "presumption of liberty" for any apprehended individual.

The result would be the mass-release of suspected illegal immigrants, as well as de facto catch-and-release for most subsequently apprehended individuals. Booker's plan would instruct DHS to develop a wide range of "alternatives to detention," a catch-all term for everything from ankle monitoring to routine check-ins by designated case workers.

Alongside this effective end to detention, Booker would substantially increase the number of people admitted to the United States under asylum and refugee policies. His proposal, if implemented, would among other things end limitations on asylum, end the requirement that asylum applicants wait in Mexico to be processed, and allow individuals afraid of domestic or gang violence in their home countries to seek asylum. Booker also promised to restore legal protections to the more than two million people who have benefited from the DACA, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and Deferred Enforcement Departures (DED) programs, effectively granting a mass amnesty.

At the same time, Booker's plan would reverse the enforcement-first strategy of the Trump administration. He would end zero-tolerance enforcement, and would "direct U.S. attorneys to deprioritize improper entry prosecutions across the U.S., unless an individual poses a public safety risk." He would also stop construction on the border wall, and bring an end to the 287(g) program, which allows federal immigration officers to deputize local law enforcement to carry out enforcement actions.

While the Booker plan would grant admissions or amnesty to millions of new people and substantially reduce enforcement, it does promise to address the "root causes" of the current crisis by appointing a "special envoy" responsible for enhancing investment in the Central American countries responsible for sending thousands of families and children. Booker's plan does not explain what this special envoy would do, and stops short of endorsing a "Marshall Plan for Latin America," as Castro's does.