Former United States attorney general Eric Holder said on Saturday Democrats seeking immigration reform "have to understand" that "borders mean something" to the United States.
Holder's comment came in response to a series of questions from CNN's David Axelrod about the Obama administration's handling of the crisis at the southern border. Axelrod, who served as an adviser to former President Barack Obama, noted Holder had admitted the former administration had made some "mistakes" on this issue.
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"There's also some angst among the left about the fact that there were hundreds of thousands of deportations a year," Axelrod said. "The administration was pretty robust in that area."
"Yeah, but the emphasis there was on people who had criminal records, people who posed a danger, a public safety risk," Holder replied. "Those were the people who we emphasized as, you know, deporting. Democrats have to understand that we do have to have—borders do mean something."
Axelrod then asked Holder if he thinks recent Democratic calls to decriminalize border crossings would be a good idea for the Justice Department.
"I don't think that's right," Holder said. "The law that's on the books has been there for a hundred years or so."
"Would it send the wrong signal to decriminalize?" Axelrod asked.
"It might send the wrong signal, but it would certainly take a tool away from the Justice Department that they might want to use in an individual case and for some reason or another, trafficking, a human trafficking component there," Holder replied. "There might be some other reason why you might want to prosecute somebody. And it is up to the Justice Department to use its discretion in an appropriate way, and I don't think this administration's Justice Department is doing that."
The idea of decriminalizing border crossings is popular among 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, with Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.), former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian Castro, and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg supporting it.