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Julian Castro, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during the Latino Leader Network luncheon in Las Vegas on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro called President Donald Trump a “spoiled child president” who “acts like a dictator” following reports that the president promised pardons to any aides accused of wrongdoing should they break laws to fast track a long-promised border wall.

The Democratic presidential hopeful, in an interview with The Nevada Independent, said that there would have been “immediate consequences” for any other president who made such remarks. He added that the country will need to make changes in a post-Trump era to limit executive authority, as there were in the wake of Watergate.

“You have a guy in the White House who is a product of clearly a very spoiled childhood, who acts like a dictator, and the problem is that Republicans in the Senate that should be helping to rein him in are not,” Castro said. “The extent to which this spoiled child president has been allowed to get away with words and actions that clearly either break the law or stretch the law is alarming.”

A White House official told The Washington Post that the president was joking when he made such statements, while Trump denied the report in a tweet.

In the interview, Castro also expressed surprise that the Las Vegas Metro Police Department is continuing to participate in the 287(g) program, which allows local law enforcement officers to carry out some immigration enforcement activities. Sheriff Joe Lombardo, in a statement earlier this year, said that the program “serves to help identify violent criminals who are in our city illegally.” 

But Castro, who wants to abolish 287(g), said that the program “tears at the trust in local communities,” a concern that even Metro has expressed as it seeks the help of immigrant families in solving crimes.

“It's not a good idea because there are people that won't report crime to the local police because they're afraid of getting caught up in an immigration court case, and that's especially true I think for a place like Las Vegas,” Castro said. “So it surprises me that the sheriff would say that. It surprises me that they would engage in that here.”

Castro suggested that a schedule of different crimes be used to determine whether or not immigration enforcement action is taken against someone to avoid sending otherwise law-abiding immigrants through deportation proceedings for something as minor as a speeding ticket.

“The way I see it is that you reach a certain level when somebody who's committed a serious felony, that that would warrant not only of course punishment for the crime itself — just like somebody will get a speeding ticket, they'll still get the speeding ticket — well, they'll still be punished as an individual based on the crime that they committed, and it also trips with a serious felony that engagement of ICE,” said Castro, adding that he supports breaking up the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Castro said that anyone who commits a serious crime should be punished by the court but that the ”vast, vast majority” of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are “simply trying to provide a better life for their family” and that he is not going to “criminalize desperation.” Castro has proposed decriminalizing border crossings, a policy that Democratic presidential hopefuls are split on.

He also reiterated his belief that immigrants both documented and not are a solution long-term financial problems facing Social Security as baby boomers draw down on the program while the country faces a declining birth rate.

“What we need is a young, healthy, vibrant workforce to ensure that our economy and the trust fund can be stronger. One answer to that is immigration, and a lot of people don't want to face that,” Castro said. “They don't want to face those facts.”

Castro also weighed in on a number of other issues in the interview, including Yucca Mountain, online gambling and marijuana policy.

The former Obama cabinet official committed that he would not allocate any funding as president toward building a long-term high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. He said that he would instead undertake a re-analysis of sites across the country that are both suitable and willing to take the nuclear waste.

“I think that we're going to make a stronger push for that alignment of community leadership, political leadership, and also safety to align in one place,” Castro said. “Clearly that didn't happen here for Yucca Mountain because the political leadership of the state, the concerns of people that live in the state, are clearly against it.”

He said that he would help repair the strained relationship between Nevada and the Department of Energy by appointing people to the department who are committed to building relationships with leaders in the state, including possibly appointing Nevadans to those roles. Elected officials in the state were furious when they learned last month that the department sent shipments of radioactive waste over six years to the Nevada National Security Site that did not meet disposal requirements.

“At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, we had instances where trust had been broken over the years with different communities, and it's a matter of making sure that you keep communities informed, that you reach out proactively when there are issues that are arising and also work with their congressional delegation,” Castro said.

Castro reiterated his support for legalizing marijuana nationwide but said he would largely leave regulation up to the states, or have the federal government lean on states that have been successful with legalizing the drug recreationally for guidance.

“At this point I'm fairly comfortable leaving that up mostly to the states because the states have been the ones who have struck out and actually legalized marijuana and begun to understand the best way to regulate it,” Castro said. “I think we're at a point where the federal government would still be learning for the states and so, at least right now, I'm comfortable with the states being able to regulate it or take the lead in regulating it.”

On two quintessential Nevada issues — gambling and sex work — Castro said that he would need to do more research.

Castro said that he was unfamiliar with a Justice Department opinion on the Wire Act earlier this year that put the future of online gambling in legal limbo but that he would look into the issue and is not opposed to all online gambling 

“There are interests here — whether it's in Nevada or other places in the country and around the world — that both deal in traditional physical gaming and also in online gaming,” Castro said. “But I haven't, I haven't seen that decision, and so before, really expressing a full view on it, I'll take a look.”

He also said that he’s still thinking through whether sex work should be decriminalized nationally, a policy that at least three of his fellow Democratic presidential hopefuls support. He added that he can “certainly see the argument for not criminalizing it” in the case of people who have been trafficked.

“I do think that there are a lot of people who are victims, for instance, of sex trafficking that find themselves in that work, and so the question is, well one question is, should we be penalizing, should we be punishing people who get caught up in that because of their desperate circumstances? Another concern, a different concern from the other angle is do you need a penalty there because that's something that should not proliferate in the country,” Castro said. “So these are some of the arguments that I think I need to think through.”

On housing policy and how to prevent another crash, Castro said that he would keep in place regulations to keep Wall Street in check, better regulate private equity groups that buy up housing en masse, and invest in building more housing units that are affordable low- and middle-income families. Castro has proposed expanding the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit by $4 billion and investing $40 billion into the National Housing Trust Fund.

I believe that that is part of the answer to it is on the supply side of it, creating more supply,” Castro said.

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