Immigration policy and the Trump administration’s treatment of migrants and refugees took center stage at Thursday’s Presidential Town Hall at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) national convention in Milwaukee as 4 Democratic primary candidates took the stage.
Julian Castro, the former San Antonio Mayor and U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary; Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former Texas U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke took the stage at Univision-LULAC’s Presidential Town Hall during LULAC’s 90th national convention in Milwaukee. As each candidate hit President Trump’s immigration policy and the current conditions at migrant detention facilities while touting their own plans to solve and stop current conditions, candidates also briefly shared their platform on healthcare (both mental and physical), education, student debt and climate change.
In an important battleground state for both the primary and national election, and in front of an audience representing a voting bloc that may prove essential to push through a crowded Democratic primary race, each candidate took pre-screened questions from the audience after a brief interview on stage with Univision anchor Enrique Acevedo. Given a time of about 20 minutes – questions centered not only on immigration policy, but on student debt, health care, climate and education.
Castro, taking the stage first, also spoke earlier in the day during LULAC’s Unity Luncheon. He was the only candidate to level significant criticism of other Democratic candidates, hitting both former Vice President Biden’s and candidate former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s refusal to support decriminalizing crossing the border. As he had previously, Castro called for the repeal of Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which would decriminalize parents and keep families from being separated at the border.
“I am not going to make policy based out of fear, political fear,” Castro said as he continued his criticism on the current border conditions for migrant families.
Later, during his question and answer portion of the event, Castro also briefly spoke on his 21st Century Marshall Plan, which would focus on investment in Central and Latin America. Calling it a plan for “the long term,” Castro called for the US to work with those countries so that people there had more opportunities and felt safe rather than coming to the US.
Castro also discussed his ideas for teacher pay incentives with tax credits, forgiving student loan debt, giving citizenship to veterans who are undocumented (including retroactively) and his plans for gun reform.
Warren next took the stage to a warm welcome from the crowd as she was announced. Quick to criticize the President’s announcement that he would direct the federal government to collect information on non-citizens, Warren said, “This is not about trying to find out real information about citizenship and non-citizenship in America. This is just about trying to stir up more hate. To try to get some more people excited.”
After speaking earlier in the day in Milwaukee where she unveiled her own immigration plan — which also includes decriminalizing border crossing — Warren also discussed creating a pathway to citizenship for those already in the country. She also discussed providing aid to Central America.
Warren also used her time to touch on her wealth tax proposal, which would increase taxes on the wealthiest 1/10th of one percent of the population to help K-12 funding, the importance of mental health access for youth, and her version of Medicare for all.
Sanders also came out swinging for Trump during his opening remarks, saying, “… tragically we have a president who today is a racist, who is a bigot, who is a xenophobe,” and “who is an embarrassment to everything this country stands for.” Sanders also called for a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and wanting to create a “humane” solution to the border crisis.
Sanders, energetic as he traveled around the stage, said public colleges should be tuition free, and student debt should be cancelled. He also spoke of the need for Medicare for All and dismantling private health insurance.
“What the American people do love in many cases is their doctors, their hospitals and their nurses. Under Medicare for all, people will have absolute freedom of choice regarding doctors and hospitals,” Sanders said.
O’Rourke was the only candidate at the forum who spoke both English and Spanish as he answered questions. Taking first an opportunity to spotlight his hometown of El Paso as an example of a safe city because of its “immigrants and asylum seekers and refugees” during his opening remarks, O’Rourke contrasted that praise with the fear that communities impacted by this weekend’s announced raids would become less safe.
“But when immigrant communities fear local law enforcement and fear federal law enforcement they are less likely to report and testify in trials,” he noted as he called for rewriting current immigration legislation to “reflect our values and the reality on the ground here in Milwaukee and El Paso.”
As he took questions, candidate O’Rourke talked not only of immigration policy, his plan to address wage disparity, pushing for apprenticeship programs and affordable higher education to help the middle class, reversing the ban on transgender people serving in the military and signing the Equality Act on his first day office, and his plan to protect the environment.