Castro pushes back on O'Rourke criticism of plan to decriminalize border crossings

Democratic White House hopeful Julian CastroJulian CastroFundraising numbers highlight growing divide in 2020 race 2020 Democrats call Trump's tweets about female Democrats racist Julián Castro: 'Everybody knows that the president acts like a white supremacist' MORE on Sunday defended his proposal to decriminalize crossing the U.S. border with Mexico, a plan that drew criticism from fellow 2020 candidate Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump digs in ahead of House vote to condemn tweet Poll: Biden, Sanders and Warren lead 2020 Democrats in New Hampshire Poll: Biden leads 2020 Democrats by 13 points, followed by Sanders, Warren and Harris MORE

Castro was asked on CNN's "State of the Union" about the former Democratic Texas congressman's comments that the plan would leave authorities without a legal mechanism to pursue drug and human traffickers.

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“I'm talking about repealing Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which simply refers to people who cross the border,” Castro said.

“And between 1929 and the early 2000s, we actually treated it as a civil violation," he added.  "So, this is not something radical.  This is the way that we used to treat it.”

The former Housing and Urban Development secretary noted that existing laws against drug smuggling and human trafficking would continue to apply under his proposal.

“If somebody comes here, and they are doing human trafficking or drug trafficking, we have laws that we can charge them with.  I'm not suggesting that we let those people off the hook,” he said. “What I'm suggesting is, if somebody comes here, they're undocumented, they're not committing a crime, like human trafficking or drug trafficking, then that should be treated as a civil violation.”

Castro said that problems associated with immigration enforcement had “multiplied” as a result of Section 1325.

“So I would absolutely go back to the way that we used to treat this.  And I believe that that would be more effective, smarter and more humane,” he said.