Another topic of debate during the first Democratic presidential debate was the issue of immigration reform and whether undocumented immigrants should have access to Obamacare. Clinton said she would support states who open up access to Obamacare to undocumented people, while O’Malley called for everyone to have access to the program and pledged to go “even further than President Obama” on the issue of immigration. Neither candidate, however, raised concerns about the unprecedented rise in deportations under the Obama administration. For more, we’re joined by Zaid Jilani, staff writer at AlterNet, in Atlanta.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to turn to an issue that got a lot of attention in the Republican debates, but not that much in this debate, which is the issue of immigration. Let’s turn to the exchange between the candidates on that issue.
JUAN CARLOS LÓPEZ: Secretary Clinton, Governor O’Malley wants to open up Obamacare to millions of undocumented immigrants and their children, including almost 90,000 people right here in Nevada. Do you?
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, I want to make sure every child gets healthcare. That’s why I helped to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program. And I want to support states that are expanding healthcare and including undocumented children and others. I want to open up the opportunity for immigrants to be able to buy in to the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. I think to go beyond that, as I understand what Governor O’Malley has recommended, so that they would get the same subsidies, I think that is a—it raises so many issues. It would be very difficult to administer. It needs to be part of comprehensive immigration reform, when we finally do get to it.
JUAN CARLOS LÓPEZ: Governor O’Malley?
MARTIN O’MALLEY: Yeah, Juan Carlos, I think what you’ve heard up here is some of the old thinking on immigration reform, and it’s why it’s gridlocked. We need to understand that our country is made stronger in every generation by the arrival of new American immigrants. That is why I have put out a policy for comprehensive immigration reform. That is why I would go further than President Obama has on DACA and DAPA.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was the exchange between the candidates on immigration. We’re also joined in Atlanta by Zaid Jilani, staff writer at AlterNet. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Zaid. Can you respond to the candidates on what they said on immigration?
ZAID JILANI: I mean, first of all, it’s great to be here. I just wanted to say that.
As far as the response that Hillary and O’Malley gave, I think this is actually an echo of what we saw in the last primary election. Remember, it was a really difficult moment for Hillary, when she actually said that undocumented immigrants shouldn’t be able to get driver’s licenses. Now we have a new issue, which is healthcare, and we see O’Malley verging way to her left, saying that, actually, the undocumented should have the same access to the exchanges, to the subsidies, to the Affordable Care Act, whereas Hillary is sort of tacking more to the right, trying to say that “this is a more sort of dicey issue for me; you know, I’m not ready to go there yet.” And I think it is actually an echo of what we saw in 2008 and a huge opportunity for her opponents, including Bernie Sanders, who I don’t think has had—has stated a position on this yet, to get to her left and actually to embrace the immigrant community.
AMY GOODMAN: Overall, Zaid, can you respond to the tenor of the debate last night, what was raised, what you were disappointed by, what you felt they hit head-on, if anything?
ZAID JILANI: Well, I think it’s really interesting. I think if you graded it like a high school debate team, that basically that Hillary, O’Malley and Bernie were probably about equal. They all got a few applause lines, they all got a few hits in. You know, it was about on parity.
But I think, in terms of coming away from the debate, Bernie Sanders was actually the big winner, because he exposed himself to a much larger national audience. Google Politics put out a stat saying that he got a 193 times increase in searches for his name last night, and his campaign said they raised $1.3 million, including having 10 contributions a second at a point.
As far as the substance goes, I do feel like the candidates were not necessarily asked to debate their contrasting visions. We had a really interesting moment early on where Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton were sort of debating the nature of capitalism, democratic socialism, but it didn’t really last long. The moderators constantly were badgering the candidates, trying to get back to scandals. And that, of course, raised the moment where Bernie Sanders said, “Hey, I’m sick of hearing about the damn emails. What about child poverty, climate change, these wars, so on and so forth?” So I think that, you know, we did start to see the candidate sort of make their own personalities. I think Bernie, particularly, got out there to a whole new audience. He won the focus groups at CNN, Fox and Fusion, as well as a number of online polls. And I think that we are starting to see sort of the people form their camps.
But I don’t think that the moderators pressed the candidates enough on a lot of key issues. For example, the drug war was only briefly brought up. For example, Hillary Clinton said that she supports the PATRIOT Act, her PATRIOT Act vote. Most people don’t know that over 90 percent of the uses of the PATRIOT Act by the federal government were actually—are for drug war uses, not just targeting, you know, young Muslim males, which is what a lot of people see it as. I don’t think that the Israeli-Palestinian issue was brought up, considering what’s happening in the holy land right now and considering Hillary Clinton’s record, which is really a failed record as secretary of state in sort of moderating that conflict. And I don’t think that climate change was really addressed, considering it is a matter of global importance. And I think it was a really impressive answer for Bernie Sanders to point out that it is the greatest national security threat, but I don’t think the moderators pressed the candidates on that issue enough.
So I definitely think that while this was a good first salvo in terms of what was happening with people forming their camps and making their opinions, I don’t think the candidates were really given a chance to contrast their visions, and I hope that moderators will bring up these key issues in future debates.