Merrick Garland, President Biden’s pick to lead the Justice Department, said Monday he “hadn’t thought” about whether illegal entry at the southern border should remain a crime.
Garland was asked by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., if he believed “that illegal entry at America’s border should remain a crime?”
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“Well, I haven’t thought about that question. I just haven’t thought about that question,” Garland responded. “I think the president has made clear that we are a country with borders and with a concern about national security. I don’t know of a proposal to decriminalize but still make it unlawful to enter. I just don’t know the answer to that question. I hadn’t thought about it.”
There has been a push in recent years to decriminalize illegal border crossings from left-wing Democrats and immigrant activist groups. Most notably, the 2020 presidential platform of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., included a pledge to decriminalize illegal border crossings, making it a civil rather than a criminal offense.
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But Republicans have expressed concern about the Biden administration adopting a radical agenda on immigration in the wake of a slew of moves reversing Trump-era policies. This week, Republicans in the House accused Biden of pushing a “far-left” agenda that is fueling a crisis at the border.
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The Biden administration has moved to implement a 100-day pause on deportations – a move that has so far been blocked due to a lawsuit. It has since narrowed guidance for who would be targeted for arrest and deportation.
Meanwhile, Biden has stopped construction of the wall at the southern border and moved to roll back the Migrant Protection Protocols, which keep migrants in Mexico as their cases are heard.
Separately, Democrats have introduced a Biden-backed bill that includes an eight-year path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants in the country.
Hawley on Tuesday again pressed Garland, asking if the Justice Department under his leadership would continue to prosecute illegal border crossings – something Garland said was a question of “allocation of resources.”
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“We will, the department will, prevent unlawful crossing,” he said. “I don’t know … I have to admit I just don’t understand, know exactly, what the conditions are and how this is done. I think if, I don’t know what the current program even is with respect to this.”
“So, I assume the answer would be yes, but I don’t know what the issues surrounding it are,” he responded.