Julián Castro shifted the Democratic conversation about immigration reform. Can it help his bid?
Julian-Castro (Screen Capture)

A proposal to decriminalize unauthorized border crossings has become a hallmark of Julián Castro’s campaign, and many of the other Democratic candidates have jumped on board. But it hasn’t helped his campaign gain much steam.

Julián Castro wasn’t a part of the Democratic presidential debate on June 27, but for a short moment that night his influence took center stage.

After fielding question after question from a panel of moderators, 10 Democrats in Miami — sans the two Texans in the race — were asked to raise their hands if they supported the repeal of a law that criminalized unauthorized border crossings.

Nine candidates appeared to raise their hands. Nearly a dozen candidates in all now appear to be onboard.

That night, the candidates were essentially endorsing an idea first raised in the campaign by Castro. The repeal of that part of U.S. immigration law, Section 1325, had in many ways become his signature issue. The topic was brought up again a month later during a debate in Detroit and, after seeing many of his opponents embrace it, his campaign triumphantly proclaimed in an email blast to supporters that Castro’s “policy leadership dominated the discussion.”

“I had just caught that part of the debate, and when I heard 1325 mentioned I thought, mira, mira, look at how quickly that’s catching on,” said Democratic state Rep. Poncho Nevárez of Eagle Pass, one of Castro’s early supporters.

But while other candidates have built strong support behind policy ideas that are popular among the primary electorate — such as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders with his Medicare-for-all spiel or U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s detailed plans on a number of issues — Castro’s proposal hasn’t elevated his candidacy to the next level. Since entering the race in January, Castro has languished near the bottom of most national polls, hovering around 1% or 2%.

That’s despite being the only Latino in the race and the first Democratic candidate to unveil a comprehensive immigration plan, which, in addition to the repeal of Section 1325, called for policies that are commonplace among Democratic candidates like reversing President Donald Trump’s travel ban and providing a pathway to citizenship for people in the country illegally.