Four of the 24 candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination outlined their visions for overhauling the nation’s immigration system, telling attendees at a Pasadena forum they are committed to making the United States a nation that welcomes refugees and asylum seekers.
California Sen. Kamala Harris, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee appeared on stage individually Friday at the Immigrant Unity and Freedom Presidential Forum of 2019 at the Hilton Pasadena, hosted by the CHIRLA Action Fund.
The fund is the political arm of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, which supports “the full inclusion of immigrant families throughout California,” according to its Facebook page.
Harris said she would work to initiate immigration legislation within the first 100 days of her presidency, and would use executive authority on day one to reinstate Temporary Protected Status for refugee groups, and extend the protections to Venezuelan refugees.
“I am committed forever and always … to ensure that we have comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship,” Harris said.
She said she believes there is political will among Democrats and Republicans to enact immigration legislation, and the support will be there “when we have a president of the United States and she uses this microphone in a way that is about accurately discussing … what is actually happening and the benefits of passing comprehensive immigration reform.”
She said acting within the first 100 days in office is critical.
“There are real consequences to real human beings, that’s why the first 100 days are important to me,” she said.
Harris, the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, has previously said she would immediately reinstate the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which would allow young immigrants living in the country illegally who were brought here as children to remain in the U.S. Opponents say the program rewards people for breaking the law, encourages illegal immigration and hurts American workers.
Harris said she would also implement the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans policy to bar deportation of parents of children who are either American citizens or lawful permanent residents.
Harris has also called for a fundamental overhaul of immigration enforcement policies and practices, including closing private immigrant detention centers, increasing oversight of agencies like Customs and Border Protection and focusing enforcement on increasing public safety.
Sanders criticized what he called the divisive policies of President Donald Trump, saying he will work to “bring our people together around an agenda that works for everybody and not just wealthy campaign contributors.”
“Our agenda is going to be based on the needs of ordinary people,” he said. “It’s going to be based on justice, economic justice, social justice, racial justice and environmental justice.”
Sanders, whose father was an immigrant from Poland, has called for enacting “comprehensive immigration reform, including a path towards citizenship”; expanding DACA and DAPA, including providing immediate legal status for young people eligible for the DACA program and developing a humane policy for those seeking asylum; completely reshaping and reforming the immigration enforcement system, including fundamentally restructuring Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and establishing standards for independent oversight of relevant agencies within the Department of Homeland Security.
“The American people by overwhelming numbers want immediate legal status for 1.8 million young people who are eligible through the DACA program and the American people want a humane policy at the border, because America is not about being a country which snatches babies from the arms of their mothers, which separates children from their parents, that puts children in cages.”
Castro, whose maternal grandmother immigrated from Mexico in 1920 when she was a 6-year-old orphan, also vowed to take action on immigration within his first 100 days in office if elected.
“This has to be a top priority for the next president,” he said. “… We can’t wait this time to push immigration reform.”
He touted his “People First” immigration plan, saying it will not only treat existing undocumented immigrants with “common sense and compassion,” but would also “improve our legal immigration system.”
Castro’s “People First” policy calls for a “pathway to full and equal citizenship” to those living in the U.S. without authorization, ending criminal penalties for entering the United States without legal permission and a Marshall Plan for Central America, focusing on stabilizing the nations that are the main sources of migration to the United States.
The Marshall Plan was the U.S. initiative to aid Western Europe following World War II.
“If we want to get to the root cause, we need the equivalent of a 21st century Marshall Plan … that doesn’t look down on these countries but is willing to work as a peer with these countries,” Castro said.
“We need in this country, we need a lot of the folks that are coming here to the United States right now,” he said. “We need them because they add vitality for this country … and we also need them because it would be economic suicide not to have them.”
Steve Guest, the Republican National Committee’s deputy rapid response director, decried Castro’s plan, saying, “Decriminalizing illegal immigration would mean open season for human traffickers, drug smugglers and violent gangs like MS-13.”
Inslee touted his newly released, 17-page “America’s Promise” proposal for “for humane, just and efficient immigration reform.”
“It’s time to reestablish an American value system of being a place of refuge,” Inslee told the crowd.
He said his plan “stops in its tracks the heinous actions of Donald Trump,” by taking steps such as ending separations of immigrant children from their parents and ensuring timely hearings for asylum seekers, while also providing a path to citizenship for people already living in the country illegally.
“Because of the idiocy of Donald Trump’s wall, people have forgotten about the 11 million people in America who are working, paying taxes, going to school, going to church, 60 percent of them who have been here for over a decade, who are integral to our communities,” he said.
He also boasted that Washington has the highest minimum wage in the country, while also having “the best economy in the United States.”
Sanders also held a midday campaign rally at the Pasadena Convention Center Friday, while Castro joined Mayor Eric Garcetti at a Boyle Heights restaurant in speaking on behalf of Measure EE, the parcel tax measure on Tuesday’s ballot to increase funding for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Garcetti also spoke at the CHIRLA forum.
Two other presidential hopefuls were also in the Los Angeles area Friday.
Marianne Williamson, the self-help author and lecturer seeking the Democratic nomination, spoke at Santa Monica College’s Emeritus College, while former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who is challenging President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination, was a guest on the HBO talk show, “Real Time with Bill Maher.”