Presidential hopeful Booker vows to end 'moral vandalism' of Trump immigration policy

(Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker would “virtually eliminate immigration detention” if elected, his campaign said on Tuesday, including ending the use of for-profit detention facilities and minimizing the time unaccompanied children spend in custody.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Cory Booker speaks at the first U.S. 2020 presidential election Democratic candidates debate in Miami, Florida, U.S., June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

Booker, 50, is among some two dozen Democrats seeking to take on Republican U.S. President Donald Trump in next year’s election.

Trump has made clamping down on illegal immigration the centerpiece of his domestic policy agenda. He has railed against Central American migrants crossing into the United States from Mexico – many of whom are seeking refuge under U.S. asylum laws – and has sought to build a wall along vast portions of the U.S. southern border.

But U.S. agencies have struggled to keep up with a surge of mostly families arriving at the border, straining resources and overcrowding facilities. Last week, lawyers asked a federal judge to intervene after they detailed several instances in which children were being held in unsanitary, unsafe conditions.

“On day one of my presidency, I will take immediate steps to end this administration’s moral vandalism,” Booker said in a statement. “Our country must have an immigration system that reflects our values, not one that strips dignity away from people fleeing danger, threats, and violence.”

Booker’s plan would require border facilities operated by the U.S. Border Patrol, including those holding children, to comply with stringent health standards or face closure.

He would also phase out contracts with private prison operators such as GEO Group Inc GEO.N and CoreCivic Inc CXW.N, which operate a number of facilities for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house adult migrants awaiting court proceedings.

In addition to targeting detention centers, Booker’s plan would reverse the Trump administration’s decision to end protections for “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review Trump’s decision next year. The program will remain in place until that case is resolved.

Booker also would do away with Trump administration rules intended to restrict asylum claims and refugees, including Trump’s entry ban for several Muslim-majority countries and a requirement that asylum seekers remain in Mexico until their U.S. court hearing.

The plan calls for providing legal counsel to all immigrants and making it easier for them to post bond in immigration court proceedings.

Several other Democratic contenders have released immigration plans, including former Secretary of Housing Julian Castro, U.S. senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris and former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke.

Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Bill Berkrot