Sparks fly when Obama alums fight over decriminalizing the border

(Image credit: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

The question of decriminalizing the border was a powder keg on Wednesday night, and it ignited when the two Obama administration alums on the Democratic debate stage went head-to-head.

Things got tense when former Vice President Joe Biden responded to an anticipated attack from former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro about immigrant deportations under President Obama. "We sat together in many cabinet meetings," Biden said. "I never heard him talk about any of this when he was secretary."

Biden added his own opinion, that "if you cross the border illegally, you should be able to be sent back. It's a crime."

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Castro was ready for Biden, too. "First of all, Mr. Vice President, it looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one of us hasn't," he said. Castro then explained that his own plan would fix the broken legal immigration system and added, "what we need are politicians that actually have some guts on this issue."

"I have guts enough to say his plan doesn't make sense," Biden fired back.

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Other Democrats also got into the melee. "An unlawful crossing is an unlawful crossing, whether you deal with it in the civil courts or the criminal courts," said New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. California Sen. Kamala Harris argued for the decriminalization of illegal border crossings, speaking of her experience visiting a government camp in Florida. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand likewise gave a passionate argument to change border crossing violations to civil ones.

Watch more of the debate, below. Jeva Lange

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.