What U.S. President Donald Trump is doing to migrant kids along America’s southwest border amounts to “kidnapping,” two Democratic candidates said in a debate in pursuit of the party’s nomination for president on Thursday night.
Meanwhile, two other candidates said they would take executive action on day one of a presidency to reverse the measures Trump has taken when it comes to migrants.
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California Sen. Kamala Harris was the first candidate to be asked about migrants being detained along the U.S. border with Mexico.
She was asked what she would do on the first day of a presidency, if she were elected.
Harris committed to a series of actions.
She said she would “immediately reinstate” legal status for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, that she would “further extend protection for deferral of deportation for their parents,” and for veterans — a group among whom she said there were several undocumented people who “served our country and fought for our democracy.”
Harris also said she would “release children from cages,” that she would “get rid of the private detention centres,” and that she would make sure that “this microphone, that the president of the United States holds in her hands, is used in a way that is about reflecting the values of oru country and not about locking children up.”
“We have to think about this issue in terms of real people,” Harris said.
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“A mother who pays a coyote to transport her child through their country of origin, through the entire country of Mexico, facing unknown peril to come here, why would that mother do that?
“Because she has decided that for that child to remain where they are, is worse.”
Ex-Colorado governor John Hickenlooper responded, saying that the “images we’ve seen this week just compound the emotional impact that the world is judging us by.”
Hickenlooper’s remarks came in the same week that a photo emerged showing a man and his 23-month-old daughter after they drowned in the Rio Grande, trying to reach the U.S.
“If you’d told ever told me any time in my life that this country would sanction federal agents to take children from the arms of their parents, put them in cages, actually put them up for adoption, in Colorado we call that kidnapping,” he said.
Hickenlooper said the U.S. needs to ensure there are “sufficient facilities in place” so that families can remain together.
WATCH: June 26 – Trump comments on photo of dead migrant, says ‘open borders means people drowning in rivers’
He also said Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) needs to be reformed, and that officers with that organization begin looking at their jobs in a “humanitarian way where they’re addressing the whole needs of the people they’re engaged with along the border.
Self-help author Marianne Williamson agreed with Hickenlooper’s characterization of migrant children’s condition as “kidnapping.”
“You’re right, it is kidnapping,” she said.
“What Trump has done is not only attacked these children, but a basic principle of America’s core. We open our hearts to the stranger.”
Williamson also suggested that no candidates on the stage were talking about American foreign policy in Latin America, the region that is the source of many of the migrants now approaching the southwestern border.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said she would fight for “comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship,” that she would institute “community treatment centres” and see that asylum seekers were given lawyers who could work with them closely.
WATCH: June 26 – Outrage after DOJ lawyer argues children in detention don’t require basic necessities
Candidates were then asked a question that became a key one in the previous night’s Democratic debate — whether they would decriminalize entering the United States without documentation.
That question was a point of debate between candidates Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke on Wednesday, specifically with regard to section 1325 of the U.S. Code, which treats illegal entry as a misdemeanour.
Candidates on Thursday were asked whether they think illegal entry should be treated as a civil offense. Most raised their hands.
South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg took a shot at the Republican Party, saying it likes to “cloak itself in the language of religion.”
He said Democrats should call out hypocrisy when they see it.
Former vice president Joe Biden, meanwhile, said the first thing he would do as president is “unite families.”
WATCH: June 26 – Family mourns loss of father, daughter found dead in Rio Grande
He noted that, at the tail end of the Obama presidency, he helped broker a bipartisan agreement to spend $740 million to help Latin American countries improve their conditions and address the “root cause of why people are leaving in the first place.”
“It was working, we saw a net decrease in the number of children coming,” he said.
“The crisis was abated, and along came this president and he immediately discontinued that.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders later addressed the issue of migration.
He said that on day one of a presidency, “we take out a pen and rescind every damn thing Trump has done on this issue.”
Sanders said that Honduras, one country that’s a source for people fleeing to the U.S., is a “failed state” where gangs are telling families that if a young doesn’t join, he’ll be killed.
“This is a hemispheric problem,” he said.