Candidates court Latino voters at immigration forum in California

Hispanics will be the largest group of non-white eligible voters in 2020

June 1, 2019, 8:55 AM

PASADENA, Calif. -- Four presidential candidates laid out their plans for immigration reform at the Unity and Freedom Presidential Forum in Pasadena, California on Friday.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Kamala Harris, and Sen. Bernie Sanders joined the lineup of speakers that were each given 30 minutes to talk and answer questions from a crowd of over 500 people from over 30 states who came to see which candidate among the crowded Democratic field would fulfill their vision for comprehensive immigration reform.

Harris made a commitment that in her first 100 days she would help transform the current immigration system including passing comprehensive immigration reform and using executive orders to reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era policy that allows some children brought to the country illegally by their parents to avoid deportation.

She also vowed to put back in place "Temporary Protected Status" to people who are in the U.S. when conditions in their home countries prevent them from returning safely. back in place revoke the Trump administration's ban on immigration to the United States from certain foreign countries--many of them with majority Muslim populations.

Members who attended the forum were also able to share their stories and ask the candidates questions.

Sanders told one young undocumented high schooler who shared that her parents were deported that she had left him speechless.

"You've kind of taken my words away....The answer to your question is obviously yes, we will introduce major comprehensive immigration reform with a path towards citizenship within the first 100 days. We will expand the DACA program immediately to provide legal protection to you so you don't have to be afraid of going out on the street and being arrested. We will protect your parents as well by expanding the DACA program to include them as well. Your parents are hard working, hard working people who are doing important work for our economy, and they should not be afraid.”

Julian Castro was the only candidate at the forum who was able to use his native Spanish-speaking skills to address the primarily Spanish speaking crowd. He responded to one Spanish-speaking questioner talking of the plight of being of an LGBTQ Honduran immigrant living in Texas who said he felt the government protected employers more than the employees.

Castro said, “The truth is that, that the United States needs workers like him,” Castro said in Spanish before translating to the rest of the crowd in English. “And we need to ensure that just like we want to extend protections for an American citizen, who happens to be from the LGBT community, that we extend those same protections to people who are immigrants in this country, I'm committed to doing that," he said to cheers.

Gov. Jay Inslee talked about his immigration plan just released Friday morning. "It stops in its tracks the heinous activities of Donald Trump to bring division and hatred to the southern border," he said. Inslee said his plan includes rescinding the efforts to peel back the protections of Dreamers, stops local law enforcement "interference," stops child-parental separation and gives undocumented immigrants the right to a hearing, among many other points.

The event hosted by Fair Immigration Reform Movement, Community Change Action and Californians for Human Immigrant Rights Leadership was the first immigration forum of its type this election cycle, according to the organizers, and will help gauge the pulse of Latino voters and what they want in a candidate especially as their increasing electoral strength comes into focus.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro speaks at a forum in Las Vegas on April 27, 2019.
Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro speaks at a forum in Las Vegas on April 27, 2019.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images, FILE

A Pew Research Center study found that Hispanics are projected to be the largest group of non-white eligible voters in 2020. With an estimated 32 million eligible voters, Hispanics will surpass the 30 million African Americans who are eligible to vote.

Eleven candidates who have a public immigration platform and met a criterion of polling and fundraising thresholds were invited to attend the forum. Only the four scheduled to speak on Monday accepted.

The candidates that were invited, but did not accept the offer are former Vice President and current frontrunner Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Cory Booker, and former congressman Beto O’Rourke, who just this week released his own policy for immigration reform, according to Jasmine Nazarett, a spokeswoman for Community Change and Fair Immigration Reform Movement.

The California Democratic Convention is also taking place throughout the weekend, with six of the candidates not participating in the forum slated to speak in San Francisco where the party’s annual event will be hosted.

“We understand that people have other commitments and it's hard to schedule logistics and sort of map out the time when they could appear,” Nazarett said. “We don’t have any hard feelings, we’re really excited for the candidates that can make it.”

Castro, Sanders, Harris, and Inslee, who participated in the forum will also be speaking at the convention.

Candidates have been increasingly allocating resources and time in the Golden State. The new focus is largely due to the state awarding more than three times as many delegates as early primary states Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire combined. Its deadline for early voting ballots will also fall on Iowa’s primary date February 3 which has widely been considered a must-win state for Democrats seeking to clinch the party’s nomination.

The forum gives the candidates an opportunity to not only tout their records on immigration and connect with Latinos but also to establish their platform to woo crucial California voters as 23 contenders fight for the top job in the United States.

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