By Gregory Krieg and Leyla Santiago, (CNN): Sen. Elizabeth Warren said on Friday that she would consider placing a moratorium on deportations as a bargaining maneuver to pressure Congress into action on immigration reform.
She was asked about the possibility during a forum in North Carolina hosted by Mijente, a grassroots Latino group, as part of their “El Chisme 2020” conversation series.
“I am open to suspending deportations, particularly as a way to push Congress for comprehensive immigration reform,” Warren told the audience, before criticizing the expanded role of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency under President Donald Trump.
Pressed after the event about her willingness to halt deportations, Warren pivoted, reiterating her support for wholesale changes to federal immigration policy and a restructuring of ICE.
“The way I see it is we need comprehensive immigration reform,” she told CNN. “And I’ve got a plan for that, I want to expand legal immigration. I want to create a pathway to citizenship, not just for DACA, but for all of our neighbors and friends who are here to stay. I want to see that path that is fair and achievable and I want to stop the crisis at the border.”
Immigration policy and deportations, in particular the 3 million unauthorized immigrants forced to leave the country during the Obama administration, has been a recurring flashpoint in the Democratic primary. During a debate in September, moderator Jorge Ramos challenged former Vice President Joe Biden to answer for that record. Biden defended Obama, noting his push for comprehensive immigration reform and arguing that “the president did the best thing that was able to be done at the time.”
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who also served in the Obama administration, also took aim at Biden, suggested he was downplaying his role. But the former vice president would not criticize the administration’s actions.
“I stand with Barack Obama all eight years,” Biden said, “good, bad and indifferent.”
In her own immigration plan, Warren pledged to slow deportations and ensure due process for individuals faced with removal. But she stopped short of discussing, as she did on Friday, a moratorium on all deportations.
“I’ll eliminate the use of expedited removal proceedings and guarantee hearings,” Warren wrote in July. “I’ll call for creating a national-scale immigration public defender corps, and a Warren administration will provide access to counsel in immigration court.”
Warren’s comment comes a day after Sen. Bernie Sanders, in his new immigration proposal, said that he would “put a moratorium on deportations until a thorough audit of current and past practices and policies is complete” and effectively eliminate ICE, by folding it into the Justice Department.
The Warren plan for ICE doesn’t go quite as far.
“I’ll reshape CBP and ICE from top to bottom, focusing their efforts on homeland security efforts like screening cargo, identifying counterfeit goods, and preventing smuggling and trafficking,” the Massachusetts senator wrote in July. “And to change the culture, I’ll insist on transparency and strengthen the authorities of independent internal watchdogs to prevent future abuses.”
Both Warren and Sanders have joined Castro in pledging to decriminalize the act of crossing the border without documentation, downgrading it to a civil offense.
“People have been treated as criminals simply for having crossed the border,” Warren said on Friday. “This is part of why I have supported decriminalizing border crossings. So there’s a lot of room for where we need to move here.”
(CNN’s Daniella Diaz and Noah Gray contributed to this report)