Julián Castro: Health Care for Illegal Immigrants ‘Is the Right Thing to Do’

Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro said his plan to extended access to health care for undocumented immigrants was “the right thing to do.”

Partial transcript as follows: 

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, let’s talk of the debate Wednesday night. You did have a breakthrough performance. You talked a lot about wanting to decriminalize immigrants coming into the United States right now, make it a civil penalty. Again, you’ve drawn a lot of heat for that, also for the plans that all the Democrats said they wanted to give access to health care for undocumented immigrants. President Trump had a tweet while he was overseas, want to show that. “All Democrats just raised their hands for giving millions of illegal aliens unlimited health care. How about that taking care of American citizens first? That’s the end of that race.” Followed by The New York Post the next morning, want to show that as well. “Who wants to lose this election as all the Democrats raise their hands.” Did you give an opening to the Republicans?

CASTRO: Not at all. What I would like every American taxpayer to know is that right now, number one, undocumented immigrants already pay a lot of taxes. Secondly, we already pay for the health care of undocumented immigrants. It’s called the emergency room. People show up in the emergency room and they get care, as they should. And then third, it is the right thing to do. We’re not going to let people living in this country die because they can’t see a doctor. That’s not who we are as Americans.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The question is at what cost, though? And when you add up all the proposals you’re — you’re — you’re calling for right now, decriminalization of crossing the border, no deportation absent other crimes, the offer of health benefits, also a possible path to citizenship. I know you reject the rhetoric about open borders, but isn’t that effectively open borders, not limiting how — immigration in any real way?

CASTRO: I would challenge you there, George, on a couple things. Number one, there’s no way that we can call that open borders because we have 654 miles of fencing, we have thousands of personnel at the border, we have planes, helicopters, boats, security cameras, guns. That’s by no stretch of the imagination open borders. And then, you know, secondly, there is still a civil court process, there are still people who are being deported, there are people applying for asylum that do not receive, are not granted asylum. So right — open borders is just a right-wing talking point. It always has been. And I’ll say, it doesn’t matter what Democrats do on this issue. President Trump and Republicans are always going to say that Democrats are for open borders. I have a completely different vision, a better, stronger vision of how we can be more effective, more humane and smarter on border security and immigration. And you know, this president has wasted 2 1/2 years. He knew that we had a flow of people that were coming from Central America when he became president on January 20, 2017. He’s wasted 2 ½ years because he should have done what I’ve called for, which is a 21st century Marshall Plan with those Northern Triangle countries so that people can find safety and opportunity at home instead of having to come to the United States.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You talk about safety and opportunity at home, and you have called for that Marshall Plan for Central America, but what is your limiting principle on allowing people in and giving them asylum? There are wide swathes of the entire world mired in poverty, mired in — in — in areas where there’s high crime. Anyone who’s facing that kind of poverty, that kind of crime should get asylum?

CASTRO: No, and that’s not the system that we have now. We have a system to consider asylum claims based on certain criteria where people either qualify for asylum or they don’t. You know, I agree with people that say, look, in theory can we take everyone who would like to be in the United States? Nobody has called for that. I do believe, however, and I’ve put forward an immigration plan that would accept more people. I’ll give you an example of that, my statute for the late ’70s, early ’80s, we can take in 110,000 refugees annually. Right now, we’re only taking in between 30,000 and 40,000 refugees, I would like to see that go up to the statutory limit. So, nobody has called for unlimited number of people coming to this country, but I do believe that we should expand that significantly, and we’re big enough to do that. There have been times in our history in this country where we were taking in a lot more people and we become a stronger nation for it. What has underlined this, and what the president likes to count on, is the fear and the paranoia that he’s stoking. I refuse to believe, because it’s not true, that the people that are coming because they’re desperate, lot of them women and children, represent some sort of national security threat or cultural threat to this country. That’s bull.

Follow Pam Key on Twitter @pamkeyNEN

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