These 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates Say They Would End Migrant Detention If Elected

Since the full extent of the desperate conditions that migrant children and adults held in U.S. detention facilities face came to the fore, Democratic 2020 presidential candidates have been swift in condemning the Trump administration for allowing what many have called a "human rights crisis" to unfold at the southern border.

In recent days, a number of Democratic hopefuls have visited U.S. detention centers, including Senators Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper and author Marianne Williamson, who all visited the Homestead detention facility while in Miami for the first Democratic primary debates.

Many have expressed outrage at the conditions that migrant children, women and men have been forced to endure, including being separated from their families and held in cold cages with inadequate access to food, water and sanitary items.

While Democratic hopefuls have been unanimous in calling on the Trump administration to address the alarming conditions at detention facilities near the border, only a number of 2020 candidates have called for an end to private prisons or migrant detention period.

Here is a look at some of the leading candidates who have vowed to bring migrant detention to an end completely and those who want to reform the current practice of detaining those seeking to enter the U.S.

Senator Bernie Sanders

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has said that his first executive order as president would be to shut down private detention facilities in the U.S.

Speaking outside the detention facility in Homestead, Florida, where Democratic hopefuls rallied against the Trump administration's immigration policies, Sanders' wife and senior adviser Jane Sanders said that "the first thing—one of the first things that he says he'll do as president—the first executive action he'll take is to shut these down, to shut down the child detention centers across the country," according to The Guardian.

Sanders' campaign team appeared to echo that promise in response to a questionnaire from Amnesty International, which asked 2020 Democratic candidates how they would respond to the asylum seekers arriving at the U.S. border if elected president.

"Bernie supports an immigration system grounded in civil and human rights. We must not let corporate America pick and choose who they want to come into our country," the team said.

"He believes we must stand up for our values and accept refugees, asylum-seekers, and families who come to the United States in search of the American Dream. That means not holding asylum seekers in detention while their applications are processed. And that means ending the for-profit detention center and prison industrial complex," they said, adding: "No one should profit from the incarceration of another person."

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has said that if elected president in 2020, she would work to ban private prisons and detention facilities outright.

In a Medium post, the Democrat said that she would end all contracts that the Federal Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has with private detention providers.

"We need significant reform in both criminal justice and in immigration, to end mass incarceration and all of the unnecessary, cruel, and punitive forms of immigration detention that have taken root in the Trump Administration," Warren wrote.

The U.S. government, she said, has "a basic responsibility to keep the people in its care safe—not to use their punishment as an opportunity for profit," she said.

Senator Kamala Harris

During last week's Democratic debates, Harris vowed to immediately "release children from cages" and "get rid of the private detention centers" where migrants are held in the U.S.

"I will...immediately put in place a meaningful process for reviewing the cases for asylum. I will release children from cages. I will get rid of the private detention centers and I will ensure that this microphone that the President of the United States holds in her hand is used in a way that is about reflecting the values of our country and not about locking children up, separating them from their parents," Harris said.

The Democrat also hit out at President Donald Trump, accusing him of failing to reflect the country's values with his hardline crackdown on immigrants.

"I have to just say that we have to think about this issue in terms of real people. A mother who pays a coyote to transport their child though their country of origin through the entire country of Mexico facing unknown peril to come here, why would that mother do that? I will tell you," she continued. "Because she has decided for that child to remain where they are is worse. But what does Donald Trump do? He says, 'go back to where you came from.' That is not reflective of our America and our values and it's gotta end."

Senator Cory Booker

New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker's newly released immigration plan seeks to "virtually eliminate immigration detention" entirely in the U.S.

Under Booker's plan, which was released on Tuesday, the U.S. would phase out the use of private detention centers over the course of three years, with exceptions made only for immigrants who present a risk to public safety or for those who are considered unlikely to report for a court date.

Instead of using detention, the majority of immigrants in the U.S. would be monitored using "alternatives," potentially including ankle bracelets, bonds and check-in systems.

In response to Amnesty International's questionnaire, Booker said: "We should not close America's doors to asylum seekers in their time of need."

"That's why, as Senator, I have introduced the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act which would prevent the detention of primary caregivers, ensure all immigrants receive individual, fair bond hearings by ending mandatory detention practices and requiring proof from [the Department of Homeland Security] within 2 days of detention to show that detention was necessary, and ending the use of for-profit prisons," he said.

"This bill will hold the Department of Homeland Security accountable and ensures vulnerable immigrants are treated with the dignity and respect that should be expected in this country," Booker added.

Pete Buttigieg

While South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has condemned the Trump administration over the conditions and treatment migrant detainees have been forced to endure, he has yet to say whether he would seek to bring detention to an end.

However, the Democrat did tell Amnesty International that he would seek "to reduce the number immigrants at the border we are holding in detention" and "reinstate and expand case management programs" which provide oversight outside of detention.

Kirsten Gillibrand

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has repeatedly condemned the Trump administration over its immigration policies and told Amnesty that "the policy of detaining and separating children and families and abusing the detention system to punish asylum seekers is unacceptable and un-American."

The 2020 hopeful has said that she would aim to "utilize community-based alternatives to detention programs with efficient case management and access to counsel, and establish an independent immigration court to depoliticize the system and ensure due process."

"In addition to building a more humane immigration and asylum system at home, we must do more to address the root causes of refugee flight," she also said.

"Most people don't want to leave their homes, but they are fleeing violence, corruption and extreme poverty. Instead of cutting off assistance as President Trump has done in the case of the Northern Triangle countries, we must work with civil society in those countries and international partners to address the root causes that force people to flee," she added.

Senator Michael Bennet

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet told Amnesty International that if elected president, he would seek to "reform the asylum process so that claims are determined safely and efficiently" and pursue "alternatives to detention for families with children and low-risk asylum seekers."

So, while Bennet is in favor of reforming the immigration detention system, he has not suggested that he has any plans to abolish it completely.

Joe Biden

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who was not present during 2020 candidates' visit to the Homestead facility last week, has condemned Trump's immigration policies, writing in a recent Miami Herald op-ed of how "under Trump, there have been horrifying scenes at the border of kids being kept in cages, tear gassing asylum seekers [and] ripping children from their mothers' arms."

Such actions, he said, "subvert our American values and erode our ability to lead on the global stage."

While Biden vowed that "if elected president, my first step will be to ensure that our policies in the Americas once again reflect our American values," he did not say what impact that shift would have on detention.

Instead, the former vice president focused on the need to give asylum seekers' cases fair hearings and address the push factors that drive migrants to the U.S. border in search of refuge.

"It's imperative that we secure our borders, but 'Build the wall' is a slogan divorced from reality," Biden said. "It won't stop the flow of illegal narcotics or human trafficking, both of which come primarily through legal ports of entry. Nor will it stop asylum seekers fleeing the most desperate conditions imaginable and who have the right to have their cases heard. Nor will it stem the numbers of undocumented, most of whom overstay legal visas."

"As vice president, I led a major, bipartisan effort to address the root causes that push people to flee, relieving pressure on our border by improving security, reducing inequality and expanding economic opportunity in Central America so that people feel safe to stay in their home countries," the former vice president said. "We were making progress until President Trump replaced sound strategy with hostility and inflammatory rhetoric."

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders stands on a ladder as he looks into the facility holding migrant children in front of a detention center in Homestead, Florida, on June 27, 2019. RHONA WISE/Getty