Open Forum: Why crossing border shouldn’t be a crime

Monday, July 29, 2019

For the past 25 years, I’ve worked with asylum seekers and immigrants in the Southwest, most recently as a federal defender in San Diego. Based on my experience, there’s one thing I can tell you about criminally prosecuting people for crossing the border:

It doesn’t work.

Right now, about 99% of my clients are charged with “1325” and “1326,” the federal laws that make it a crime to cross the border without permission. The Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy has turned 1325 misdemeanors into the most-frequently charged crime in our district, even though it carries a lower penalty than mailing dentures or poking a manatee.

So I’ve been thrilled to see Julián Castro and other candidates advocating for the repeal of these border-crossing crimes. Secretary Castro was right — these laws are the primary reason that family separations continue to occur.

But that’s not the only motive for repealing such laws. In my experience, there’s at least five other reasons why decriminalizing border crossing makes legal, humanitarian and economic sense.