Grading the Top Candidates’ Immigration Plans

Elizabeth Warren A-

Bernie Sanders B+

Pete Buttigieg B+

Joe Biden B-

All of the leading Democrats would roll back the major anti-immigrant measures imposed by President Trump, including the Muslim Ban and restrictions on asylum. They would protect DACA, support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and try to avoid deportations of immigrants without criminal records.

Biden would leave in place partnerships between local police and ICE that can be deployed to threaten undocumented immigrants. He would limit deportations, but only so long as he is president. The other candidates would separate local policing from immigration enforcement.

All of the candidates want to end the use of private detention in immigration enforcement, which would be a significant shift from present policy.

The grading system

  1. Treatment of undocumented immigrants inside the United States
  2. Enforcement policies at the border
  3. Asylum and refugee policy
  4. Visa reform
  5. Institutional reform

Policies Toward Undocumented Immigrants Inside the United States

Buttigieg, Sanders and Warren: A

Biden: B-

The big picture

Restraining deportations

Immigration detention

Temporary Protected Status

At the Border

Sanders and Warren: A

Buttigieg: B

Biden: C

The big picture

Expedited removal

Criminal prosecution for border crossing

Muslim Ban

Asylum/Refugee Policy

Sanders and Warren: B

Biden and Buttigieg: B-

The big picture

Asylum eligibility

Refugee resettlement

Visa Reform

Biden, Buttigieg, and Warren: A

Sanders: B-

The big picture

Making legal immigration easier

Bars to legal immigration

U Visas

Institutional Reform

Sanders: A

Buttigieg and Warren: A-

Biden: C

The big picture

Reforming ICE and CBP

Reforming the Immigration Courts

Final notes


The Biden Campaign alerted me to a clearer, stronger published statement that Vice President Biden has made on ending private immigration detention (see above). I have updated the article accordingly, and revised the grade for the Biden plan from C+ to B- based on this new information.




Michael Kagan is Joyce Mack Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he directs the UNLV Immigration Clinic. Twitter: @MichaelGKagan

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Michael Kagan

Michael Kagan

Michael Kagan is Joyce Mack Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he directs the UNLV Immigration Clinic. Twitter: @MichaelGKagan

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