Illegal immigration became a flashpoint during Wednesday’s portion of the Democratic debate, with former Vice President Joe Biden taking heat for a common-sense, politically popular comment.

“The fact of the matter is, when people cross the border illegally, it is illegal to do it, unless they are seeking asylum,” Biden said.

It came during an exchange with candidate Julian Castro, who wishes to decriminalize immigration by repealing a portion of current law.

Immigration is center stage in American politics, as critics complain that President Donald Trump’s stance on the issue is too harsh. The president believes that if immigrants have come to the United States illegally, they must leave. To us, that seems entirely logical.

For Biden to essentially say the same thing with such vigor was a bit of a surprise, even though his former boss, President Barack Obama, took a decidedly tough stance on illegal immigration.

This is a tough spot for Democrats. Progressives seeking to distance themselves from the many other candidates – and especially President Trump – argue criminal enforcement of illegal immigration is wrong. Castro especially feels that way, yet he never mentioned it when he served under Obama as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Castro’s goal is to repeal Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, thus making illegal immigration to the U.S. a civil, rather than criminal, offense. He told the Texas Tribune that the current U.S. policy is “draconian” and immigrants seeking refuge in the country are not a threat to national security.

In a way, he’s right. Immigrants who go through the legal channels to enter the U.S. aren’t a threat, and especially those seeking asylum. But illegal immigration is a problem in the United States; combating it is neither wrong nor racist, but some will insinuate or outright declare it so.

Crossing the border illegally is, and always should be, a criminal act. And it’s not right that Americans foot the bill for illegal immigrants to be here.

In a piece published in The Hill – a newspaper that covers the U.S. Capitol – libertarian writer Kristin Tate figures illegal immigrants create a $116 billion annual burden on the economy and taxpayers. She notes “the institutional burden on illegal immigration includes a crime rate four times higher than that of citizens” and that “of all federal prisoners, 26 percent are noncitizens, two-thirds of whom are in the United States illegally.”

Jeh Johnson, Obama’s Homeland Security secretary, says Castro’s plan “is unworkable, unwise and does not have the support of the majority of American people.”

Americans should not want a softer stance on illegal immigration. Separation of families aside, a tough approach at the border is the best way forward.

Consecutive presidents have worked to that end because, without those efforts, the flow across the border would be virtually unchecked. Johnson, as quoted in The Washington Post, said that under Castro’s policy, “instead of 100,000 apprehensions a month, it will be multiples of that.”

Legal immigration is good. The U.S. – and especially our region – needs workers.

Illegal immigration needs continued work, and not softer laws and political policies.