Bernie Sanders Says Migrants Who Have Spent 5 Years in U.S. Should Get to Stay

WASHINGTON — Senator Bernie Sanders on Thursday called for ending virtually all of the Trump administration’s immigration policies and creating a “swift, fair pathway to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants, including by allowing people who have been in the United States illegally for five years to stay without the risk of deportation.

Mr. Sanders’s immigration proposals are among the most progressive offered by a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to date and, should they be enacted, would substantially reshape federal policy.

If elected, Mr. Sanders would, on his first day in office, place a moratorium on all deportations until his administration conducted a “thorough audit of current and past practices and policies,” his campaign said. And he would seek to restructure the Department of Homeland Security, reassigning responsibilities for border enforcement, naturalization and citizenship and customs authority to other cabinet agencies.

In so doing, he would “break up” Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as many liberal immigration activists have demanded, splitting its responsibilities between the Justice and State Departments.

“The Trump administration’s treatment of immigration exclusively as a criminal and national security matter is inhumane, impractical and must end,” the Sanders campaign wrote. “As president, Bernie Sanders would make undocumented immigration a civil matter, and fundamentally reform the government agencies tasked with enforcing immigration law in a way that views immigration as a historically valued process that’s woven into our country’s fabric.”

Mr. Sanders, like his Democratic rivals who have articulated immigration proposals, said he would end President Trump’s policies restricting funding to so-called sanctuary cities, allow asylum seekers to stay in the United States rather than having them wait in Mexico, halt family separations at the southern border and stop efforts to build a wall there. He said he would seek to double funding for immigration judges, though his plan does not specify where those funds would come from.

He also said he would decriminalize unauthorized border crossings, making them a civil offense, an idea pushed by Julián Castro, the former housing secretary, in the first Democratic debate in June. Mr. Castro, who has released an extensive immigration plan of his own, tweeted Thursday that he was “happy to see @BernieSanders join me.”

A President Sanders would not need congressional approval for the raft of executive actions detailed in his immigration proposals. But he would need Congress to pass any plan to offer amnesty to undocumented immigrants. The most recent effort failed in 2013 when the Democratic-controlled Senate passed immigration legislation hammered out by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators, but the Republican-held House did not vote on it.

That proposal, which had backing from Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, helped torpedo Mr. Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign and served as the focal point of attacks from conservatives including Jeff Sessions, who would eventually serve as a key surrogate and attorney general for Mr. Trump.

Homeland Security officials in the Trump administration have said that plans like Mr. Sanders’s, which would forgo deportations for any undocumented immigrant who has been in the country for at least five years, could serve as a magnet for migrants from around the world, many of whom would have little trouble avoiding detection for that time.

Unlike Republicans, Democrats have not made immigration policy a front-burner issue on the presidential campaign trail. The leading candidates all agree in their staunch opposition to Mr. Trump’s immigration policies, with the border wall and family separation policies drawing particular ire.

But in Iowa, where Democrats will hold the party’s first nominating contest on Feb. 3, immigration policy has not drawn nearly as much attention as the debate over how to expand health insurance coverage, which has created a stark contrast between Mr. Sanders of Vermont and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts on one side and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., on the other.

Ms. Warren has called for some of the same immigration priorities as Mr. Sanders, including decriminalizing the border. Mr. Biden and Mr. Buttigieg have not offered detailed immigration plans and have not specified how they might change deportation policies.

Chris Newman, the general counsel for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, a pro-immigration group, said the Sanders proposal was the “gold standard” of progressive immigration proposals in the 2020 field.

Yet he said it remained unclear how much emphasis Mr. Sanders would place on immigration policy during his campaign or in a possible presidential administration.

“The big incomplete is whether he’ll use the bully pulpit, whether he’ll actually emphasize this,” Mr. Newman said Thursday. “That’s what was missing in 2016. He had great words on paper in 2016 but he didn’t emphasize this issue.”

Caitlin Dickerson contributed reporting from New York, and Zolan Kanno-Youngs from Washington.