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

Democratic White House hopeful Julian CastroJulian CastroThe Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg to face off with rivals at Nevada debate How the media fall in and out of love with candidates Key Latino group endorses Sanders ahead of Nevada caucuses 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'RourkeCNN signs Andrew Yang as contributor Krystal Ball: Voters are coming to their own judgements about who is electable Warren campaign to host series of events in Texas 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.