(CNSNews.com) - Julian Castro, a former HUD Secretary and former mayor of San Antonio, is now one of two dozen Democrats running for the 2020 presidential nomination.
At a Fox News town hall Thursday night, he was questioned by a woman who said an illegal immigrant stole her Social Security Number. "He was caught and released on his on recognizance, and never to be heard from again," the woman told Castro.
"My question is, would you be willing to penalize offenders taking advantage of Americans by having them not released if they're known to be illegal?"
Let me begin to answer that question by saying, look, all of us know as human beings that regardless of circumstance, whether people are rich, or poor, no matter the color of their skin, what their background is, that people commit crime. Crime happens.
I'm very sorry to hear what happened to your Social Security number. I know, you know, how that can be jarring for somebody. Hopefully, that was resolved, OK.
I have said very clearly that if somebody commits a crime like that, that they should be punished for that. It doesn't matter who you are. Whether you're an American citizen, whether you're not an American citizen, whether you're undocumented, if somebody commits that kind of crime, then of course, I believe that that person should be punished.
What I don't believe is that we should be incarcerating these women and children who are fleeing desperate circumstances in those countries and simply are looking for a better life, and then we're keeping them in cages like animals, and keeping these men in 100 degree heat, underneath a bridge, they're fenced in like animals, like a dog pound basically.
I believe that we're better than that as Americans. And so, of course, we need to enforce those laws, whether it's identity theft or it's more serious crimes. I've said that very clearly.
And we need to maintain a border that is secure, right? And we can get better in some ways about border security. You all may remember here in Arizona, a few -- a couple of months ago, we had the largest bust of fentanyl in our nation's history -- 254 pounds of fentanyl.
But that didn't come through the border. It came through one of the ports of entry, one of the checkpoints. Why don't we invest more in ports of entry to catch more drug trafficking and human trafficking that happens there. That's the kind of border security I think that we need to invest more in.
(Castro was applauded for the remark.)
Castro said the situation at the border -- he refused to call it a crisis -- rests with President Trump, who began his campaign calling for a crackdown on illegal immigration and a "big, beautiful wall" to stop people from coming in illegally.
Democrats have opposed the president at every turn.
"I believe that we have a crisis of leadership," Castro said:
If you think about it for a second, when he came into office, Donald Trump said that he was going to solve this -- as he put it -- this immigration problem. And he's completely failed.
Last month, there were 144,000 people that came to the southern border. And in our name, little children have been separated from their mothers. People, right now, about 100 people are in the 100-degree heat of El Paso, Texas, underneath the bridge, being fenced in and kept like animals together without the ability to shower or to change clothes for a whole month. That is a failure that this president has been on the issue of immigration, right?
So I say that we have tried this cruelty and his mistakes. There's a better way to do this. And a couple of months ago, I release what I call my "People First" immigration plan that says, number one, that we need to treat people with compassion and with common sense instead of cruelty. That we need to-- (applause)
We need to put the undocumented immigrants who are in the United States, as long as somebody hasn't committed a serious crime, on a pathway to citizenship, including our Dreamers.
That we need to invest in immigration judiciary that is independent and has enough judges and support staff to actually go through all of the claims for asylum, so that people are not waiting in limbo years upon years. I mean, people that are out there in the country are just waiting, right? We can do a better job than that.
And maybe most importantly, we actually need to get to the root cause of this issue. And the root cause of this issue is that in places like Honduras, like Guatemala, like El Salvador, that people can't find safety or opportunity there in their home country.
And so, that's why a mother would bring her 6-month-old infant more than a thousand miles on a dangerous journey to the southern border of the United States without any guarantee of getting into because they are so desperate. It's so dangerous.
So I've called for the equivalent of 21st century Marshall Plan based on mutual respect and working together with these countries and with Mexico so that people can find that safety and opportunity there, and 144,000 people don't have to come to the southern border to try to find it here. I believe that's a smarter, more effective and more humane way to approach immigration than the way we've done it.
Castro said the issue is personal for him, because he grew up with a grandmother who came into the country from Mexico when she was seven years old.
McCallum pressed Castro on whether he believes the situation at the border is an actual crisis:
"I think the crisis that exists is driven by the conditions in countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala," Castro said. "And instead of making it better, this president is actually making it worse."
President Trump continually rails against "open-borders Democrats" in Congress who refuse to fix the nation's broken immigration laws.