2020 Democratic Candidates Tackle Immigration Reform at the Unity + Freedom Presidential Forum in Pasadena
Julian Castro, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders made an appearance at immigration activist event on Friday, May 31 – one month before the Democratic Primary Debates
Despite the controversial push by the Trump Administration to build the wall at the Southern border since he was elected into office, the issue of immigration has not been at the forefront of the progressive candidates’ platforms thus far. Free college, universal healthcare, environmental and racial justice are monumental topics regularly touched on while immigration has taken the back seat.
Exactly one month away from the Democratic Primary Debates, the three candidates tackled immigration reform at the Unity + Freedom Presidential Forum stage in Pasadena early Friday.
Each candidate was interviewed by Dorian Warren, president of Community Change, and Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA).
Kamala Harris, Julian Castro and Bernie Sanders heard testimonies on stage from DACA recipients and undocumented teenagers in the audience. Following their testimonies, the candidates responded with plans to create “comprehensive immigration reformation” –– although none of them, except Castro, clearly specified how they would implement these plans.
Harris, who was first to take the stage, related with activists and DACA recipients in the crowd and said she was “proud to be the daughter of immigrants” and that the U.S. “was founded by immigrants.”
The hopeful candidate referred to her record as “an advocate for immigration reform” during her career path as district attorney, attorney general and elected senator.
“It is absolutely immoral and wrong, and that is essentially what is behind the policies of this Administration,” Harris said Friday. “That is not an issue of border security – that is human rights abuse being committed by the U.S. government.”
The California Senator talked about immediately restoring DACA protection and creating a plan for parents of DACA recipients.
“It’s about understanding the nature of the issue and also understanding what the goal should be that is not only reflective of the morals of who we are as a nation, but also reflective of the promise and history of our country,” she said.
Harris said that opponent Joe Biden should answer for the spike in deportation that occurred during his time as Vice President.
According to a report by the U.S. News & World Report, deportations under the Obama administration peaked at 409,849 in 2012, which is almost twice the amount of deportations during 2017, which includes the last four months of Obama’s term and the first eight months of Trump’s presidency.
“Anyone running for president must deal with the problems in front of them and also with the plan going forward,” she said.
She reaffirmed her desire for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, but did not clearly state a comprehensive plan in place for the 2020 presidential race.
Harris emphasized that the Trump Administration’s current policies needs urgent reform to restore America’s true values.
Castro, on the other hand, is attacking immigration reform head on with his extensive “People First” immigration policy already put in place for the 2020 race. Although he is considered an underdog in the Democratic race, he is one of the few candidates with an all-inclusive pathway to citizenship plan for undocumented immigrants.
“I will do everything I can under the law by executive action … to reinstate DACA and DAPA, stopping the taking of money for the Department of Defense, or taking any of the money and putting it into a dumb wall, or the Muslim ban,” Castro said.
According to Castro’s immigration plan, some actions he plans to implement are: “increasing refugee admissions, reversing cuts under Trump,” and “end cooperation agreements under Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act and other such agreements between federal immigration enforcement agencies and state and local entities that erode trust between communities and local police.”
“We treat people out there who are undocumented with respect and compassion and with common sense,” Castro said Friday. “I believe there is a better way we can do immigration, and in my ‘People First’ policy I’ve laid out a common sense and compassionate … this [current] immigration policy is wasting millions and millions of dollars on a wall that won’t work.”
Additionally, Castro believes we should not get involved with the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
“I think the best way to handle it is to make sure the Venezuelans have the humanitarian aid that they need, and that they have free and fair elections,” Castro told Scriberr News. “I don’t think the U.S should try to install our own dictators and people there, I think the people of Venezuela should have the choice to choose their own leadership. I’m committed to that.”
Earlier this year, Castro took shots at Sanders for his statements on reparations, stating that Sanders does not believe the best way to address reparations is through “writing a big check.” Castro accused the senator of throwing money at universal health care and free college. However, Castro does not have plans for reparations in place, either, and said he would “appoint a commission or task force to determine the best way to do that.”
“I believe the process is just as important as the outcome. If we’re going to address the original sin of slavery, then we need something the American people can believe in,” Castro told Scriberr News. “I believe the process that has been laid out is a good one, and that’s why it’s important.”
Just minutes before taking the stage at the forum, Sanders gave a speech at his rally a block away at the Pasadena Convention Center. He took shots at Trump’s “racist immigration policies” and “xenophobia,” – stating that this generation is the “most progressive generation” he’s ever seen.
Sanders stated that Trump “is not speaking for a majority of people in this country” and that the U.S. needs a leader who encompasses love.
“I would be honored to provide that leadership in this country that talks about love and compassion, not hatred and divisiveness –– about human growth and not terrorizing people or making them live in fear when they get up in the morning to go to school.”
Joking that he would not be “smoking anything today,” Sanders also said there needs to be control on wealthy campaign contributors, a familiar concept he has repeatedly expressed since the 2016 Presidential Election.
Though the candidates did not reveal specific plans for immigration reform on Friday, they successfully won over the attendees by promising to prioritize immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship should they take office. Though each candidate promised the same thing, they responded differently to the DACA recipients’ stories—Castro with logos, Harris with ethos, Sanders with pathos. In the end, however, Sanders seemed to win the day.
Many young people were in attendance at the conference, including 16-year-old Aimee Benitez. Benitez and her peers came with CHIRLA to support their classmate, Diana, a DACA recipient who shared her story on stage with the candidates and audience. Benitez said that she left feeling most inspired by Sanders.
“I feel like Bernie is the one pushing pushing forth the revolution and demanding more civil engagement,” Benitez said. “Though I can’t vote yet, I can do things to help reduce the effects of climate change, and I think that U.S. intervention in other countries perpetuates a cycle of imperialism, and that’s not the U.S. I want to live in.”
Daniela Zopiyactle, a student at San Jose University, said she now has a better understanding of which candidates are “in this together with us.”
“Many of my community, we care about what people are doing to help immigration reform, but I feel like none of us take the time to listen and hear the stories [of those it affects]. I feel it definitely opened the door to new ways I can help, like going door-to-door and lobbying for immigration reform and stuff like that. If they are committing to it, so can I.”
Zopiyactle said that of the Democratic candidates, she hopes that Sanders is the candidate who will come out on top.
“He such a good job of showing how moved he was by the stories of the DACA recipients…he really feels like someone we can run to when we have issues and he can help us through it,” she said. “He feels like he can be the person out there helping us.”
It seems like each candidate is hoping to be the person out there helping. The Democratic Party will convene and strategize to pick a new party leader on May 31-June 2 at the California Democratic State Party Convention in San Francisco, CA.