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Castro Challenges O'Rourke, Dems On Immigration Policy

The two presidential candidates from Texas sparred over immigration at Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate in Miami. 

Former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julian Castro called out former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke for not supporting a repeal of the federal law that criminalizes border crossings.

“The reason they are separating these little children from their families is that they are using section 1325 of that act, which criminalizes coming across the border to incarcerate the parents and then separate them,” Castro said. “Some of us have called to end that section of the law to terminate. Some, like Congressman O’Rourke, have not.”

O’Rourke fired back saying his plan covers more than just one aspect of immigration reform.

“You’re looking at just one small part of this, I’m talking about a comprehensive rewrite of our immigration laws,” he said.

Before jumping back on their respective campaign trails, Castro and O’Rourke will both spend Thursday touring one of Florida’s detention facilities in nearby Homestead.

Google searches for "Julián Castro" spiked 2400% during last night's Democratic Presidential debate in Miami. That's according to Google Trends.

Castro was the first of the ten candidates on the debate stage asked about an Associated Press photo of a Central American dad and his 23-month-old daughter lying face down on the banks of the Rio Grande after they died while trying to cross the Texas-Mexico border.

“Watching that imagine of Oscar and Valeria is heartbreaking,” Castro said. “It should also piss us all off.”

Castro was the first Democratic candidate to release a campaign immigration plan back in April which, among other things, decriminalizes border crossings.

Brandon Rottinghaus teaches political science at the University of Houston. He said Castro’s expertise on immigration helped him have a breakout moment on the debate stage.

“I thought he showed a perfect amount of passion and policy expertise,” he said. “This is going to be a big issue for him. This is going to be a big issue for all the candidates going forward and he really owns this issue now in a way that he didn’t before.”

The latest Quinnipiac poll shows Castro among 14 candidates that currently poll less than 1%.

Rottinghaus said the fact that Castro was able to challenge the other candidates on immigration and other topics will be a major boost for him, but he’ll need to keep the momentum going in order to boost his poll numbers.

“This will be a one-day story. This will be a one ‘pop’ for him.  The problem is once the second debate comes it’s going to be all about that debate,” Rottinghaus said.

After Thursday's debate, the next debate scheduled is for July 30 in Detroit.

Ryan Poppe can be reached at RPoppe@TPR.org and on Twitter at @RyanPoppe1.

Ryan started his radio career in 2002 working for Austin’s News Radio KLBJ-AM as a show producer for the station's organic gardening shows. This slowly evolved into a role as the morning show producer and later as the group’s executive producer.