Democratic Presidential Candidates Discuss Immigration Issues at National Forum in Pasadena

Castro, Harris, Inslee, and Sanders share their thoughts and plans on one of the nation’s most divisive issues

Published : Saturday, June 1, 2019 | 5:12 AM

2020 U.S. Presidential election contenders Senator Kamala Harris and Senator Bernie Sanders joined former HUD Secretary Julian Castro and Washington Governor Jay Inslee at the “Unity and Freedom Presidential Forum” presented by Firm Action, the CHIRLA Action Fund, and Community Change Action in Pasadena on May 31, 2019. Harris photo by Brian Biery. Sanders photo by James Carbone.

Hewing closely to themes of inclusiveness and openness, four major Democratic presidential candidates delivered their positions on America’s immigration issues Friday at the Pasadena Hilton.

The candidates — former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, California Senator Kamala Harris, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee — spoke at the “Unity and Freedom Presidential Forum” presented by Firm Action, the CHIRLA Action Fund, and Community Change Action.

All of the candidates hit out at President Donald Trump, calling him “racist,” and “dangerous,” and pledged to work with the forum’s sponsoring groups to roll back current immigration policies.

As part of the meeting’s format the candidates heard personal stories from audience members, who then asked more detailed questions regarding the candidates’ stance on various immigration issues.

Senator Harris told questioner Lupita Rojas, who tearfully told the tale of her parent’s deportation, “There are many children crying. We will fight on behalf of you and your parents.”

Harris also pledged to renew DACA, or the “Dream Act,” as it is known by many, and to reuniting families separated at the US-Mexican border.

“Parents deserve protection, too,” said Harris, who added, “This is a nation that was founded by immigrants. Unless you are native American, or your ancestors were kidnapped and brought over here on slave ships, your people are immigrants.”

“I would ask you to look in the mirror on this issue,” continued Harris, “and then look in the family album or the family bible. See how names were spelled and where they were born, so you understand who built this country and who continue to lead the future of it, and fulfill the aspirations of this country.”

Former HUD Secretary and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, speaking in English and in Spanish, discussed the idea of deportation and family separation as well as the role of immigrant labor in the US.

Castro also said that illegal immigration and legal immigration are “not mutually exclusive,” and that both deserve reform.

Castro, who introduced his “People First” comprehensive immigration reform package, told the youthful, 500-member audience that immigration has to be a top priority, and that, “the lesson that we have learned since 2010, is ‘Don’t wait to reform. We can’t wait.’”

Castro offered that his plan would also streamline and improve the Country’s legal immigration process.

Castro also said his reform plan would decriminalize minor offenses by immigrants, and keep families together.

“If we are pro-family, then we should be for family reunification,” he said.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a crowd favorite who spoke earlier in the day at a rally at the Pasadena Convention Center, delivered a large portion of his stump speech at the Hilton event.

He drew a standing ovation when he hugged speaker Diana Bautista after her emotional tale of not qualifying for DACA, but pledging to become politically active and become an immigration lawyer to help others caught in the immigration struggle.

Sanders also told the audience, “The bad news is that Trump is still president, but the good news is that the vast majority of Americans do not believe in virtually all of his positions, including immigration reform.”

Sanders said that the American people are “sick and tired of Trump demonizing immigrants and they are sick and tired of his divisiveness.”

What the American people want is comprehensive immigration reform, said Sanders, along with a path toward citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people in the country.

While Sanders was clearly a crowd favorite, Washington Governor Jay Inslee made a strong showing with his presentation. The least-known of the four candidates told the gathering that “every generation of American has a sacred duty and that is to fight and maintain the basic heart of America.”

Inslee said the “basic heart of America is based on the words on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, and it is our central duty to make sure that spirit is never extinguished.”

Inslee noted that when he heard about President Trump’s attempts to bar Muslims from the US, “I was the first to stand up and say, ‘This is wrong.’”

“When people said we should not take refugees from Syria, I said they are welcome in Washington State, because we believe in diversity”

He pardoned the minor offenses of two Cambodian-Americans living in Washington, to clear their path for citizenship, he said.

Inslee also introduced an immigration plan of his own, which among other things, would rescind the elimination of DACA, eliminate local law enforcement working with Federal agencies on illegal immigration, stop the separation of children and families, and restore the right to asylum hearings.

Mincing few words, Inslee added, “Because of the idiocy of Donald Trump’s wall, people have forgotten the over 90 million people in America who are working, paying taxes, coaching soccer, going to school, and going to church, with 60 percent of them who have been here over a decade, and being an integral part of our neighborhoods and our communities, and it’s high time to get comprehensive immigration reform, to give them a path to citizenship.”

At least 15 Democratic candidates, including the four from the forum, will be in San Francisco this weekend for the 2019 California Democrat Convention.