National Public Radio presidential debate

But what I've also described are some of the things that I've seen firsthand. The town — small town that I grew up in in North Carolina is now about half Latino, Hispanic. I did a poverty tour earlier this year that began in — in New Orleans, but it also went through Mississippi. And in Canton, Mississippi, I met with a group of workers who worked at a poultry plant there, largely Hispanic, and the abuses that they described to me were extraordinary. There was a man there who had been injured on the job — had his back broken, literally, on the job — and was told by the company doctor that it was just a generic condition and there was nothing they could do for him.

And what I consistently heard from the workers — I've heard this all over the place — is if they're — they're not being paid in many cases for the work that they're done, not being paid overtime, not being paid in many cases the minimum wage. And if they raise any question about it, they're — the first question the employer asks is, "What is your status?"

MR. INSKEEP: Well, how are they not driving down wages for everybody else if that's the case?

MR. EDWARDS: Well, I think what the studies show is there are a lot of things driving down wages in the United States of America. One of those things, which I hope we have time to talk more about, is the loss of good, middle-class jobs, which has been accelerated under this administration but didn't begin under this administration. And I think there are a variety of things that are contributing to that. And one — the great issue facing the next president — that will be facing me as president is, what do we do to strengthen and grown the middle class? And there are a whole range of things that we need to do, that — if we actually want to — want to save the middle class and strengthen the American economy.

MR. INSKEEP: Let me go over to our colleague, Michele Norris, who has a question.

MS. NORRIS: I just want to follow up with Senator Edwards, on something that you said. I've had the pleasure to sit in a debate setting in front of you twice within the last week, and at the debate on Saturday, you noted that undocumented immigrants are punished if they complain about unsafe conditions, if they speak up. And you noted that these workers would have rights, they would be looked after, in an Edwards administration. What rights do immigrants have if they're working without proper authorization?

MR. EDWARDS: Well, the — the answer to this is not a short-term solution. I wish there were a clear short-term solution that would be effective.

The answer to this is comprehensive immigration reform. That is ultimately the answer. But we —

MS. NORRIS: But until you get to that point, what —

MR. EDWARDS: But until we get to that –

MS. NORRIS: — if workers don't have proper identification, proper authorization, what rights would they have under your administration?

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