Johnson’s statement that decriminalizing border-crossings would amount to open borders is patently false ― decriminalization would leave the civil enforcement system intact ― but it reflects the concerns common among DHS officials that human smugglers will take advantage of any change in border enforcement to convince more migrants to make the journey.
“I have yet to see a really clear argument about how criminal prosecutions help anything in immigration policy,” Kagan said. “It seems like the argument for it is that we have to somehow display our willingness to be harsh ― to show that we’re serious. … I find it hard to justify being harsh to a human being because you think it’s a good political play.”
The liberal backlash against the decriminalization proposal is an unwelcome intrusion for progressive groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Grassroots Leadership or Mijente, which have for years pushed Democrats to take notice of the issue with little success.