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Jose Antonio Vargas: GOP Debate on Immigration Marked by Misinformation & Lack of Empathy

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Florida Senator Marco Rubio went on the offensive against Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump during a spirited debate last night in Houston, Texas. It was the final showdown for the five remaining Republican candidates before Super Tuesday, when about a dozen states will hold contests to choose a nominee. The debate came just days after business mogul Donald Trump won the Nevada caucuses in his third consecutive victory. With former Florida Governor Jeb Bush no longer on stage, the five remaining candidates were Trump, Rubio, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Ohio Governor John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Much of the debate focused on immigration. We play highlights from the fiery debate and get reaction. “You look at the two Hispanic candidates for president who are trying to out-Trump Trump. … Given their own immigration history in this country, where is compassion? Where is empathy? Where is a sense of humanity when it comes to talking about this issue?” says Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, founder and editor of #EmergingUS and founder of Define American. Vargas is also critical of the job moderators and reporters have done covering immigration in the 2016 election. “I just don’t understand … when it comes to an issue like immigration, which has been central to this campaign, why a lot of journalists don’t know the facts and don’t call out the candidates for not knowing the facts.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Florida Senator Marco Rubio went on the offensive against Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump during a spirited debate last night in Houston, Texas. It was the final showdown for the five remaining Republican candidates before Super Tuesday, when about a dozen states will hold contests to choose a nominee. The debate came just days after business mogul Donald Trump won the Nevada caucuses in his third consecutive victory. With former Florida Governor Jeb Bush no longer on stage, the five remaining candidates were Trump, Rubio, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Ohio Governor John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Rubio sought to chip away at Trump’s front-runner status, landing a series of jabs on everything from Trump’s stance on Israel to his partial support of Planned Parenthood. But Rubio began by attacking Trump on immigration.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: In 2011, he talked about the need for a pathway to citizenship. In 2012, Donald criticized Mitt Romney, saying that Mitt lost his election because of self-deportation. And so, even today, we saw a report in one of the newspapers that Donald, you’ve hired a significant number of people from other countries to take jobs that Americans could have filled.

My mom and dad—my mom was a maid at a hotel, and instead of hiring an American like her, you have brought in over a thousand people from all over the world to fill those jobs instead. So I think this is an important issue. And I think we are realizing increasingly that it’s an important issue for the country that’s been debated for 30 years, but finally needs to be solved once and for all.


DONALD TRUMP: Well, first of all, self-deportation is people are going to leave as soon as they see others going out. If you look at Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, they started moving people out, and the rest of them left. Self-deportation, as I really define it—and that’s the way I define it—is you’re going to get some to go, and the rest are going to go out.

As far as the people that I’ve hired in various parts of Florida during the absolute prime season, like Palm Beach and other locations, you could not get help. It’s the up season. People didn’t want to have part-time jobs. There were part-time jobs, very seasonal, 90-day jobs, 120-day jobs, and you couldn’t get. Everybody agrees with me on that. They were part-time jobs. You needed them, or we just might as well close the doors, because you couldn’t get help in those hot, hot sections of Florida.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: My point that I made was that you had criticized Mitt Romney for self-deportation. You said that his strategy of self-deportation is why he lost the election. And I think people in Florida would be surprised, because, in fact, the article that was today, they interviewed a number of people that would have been willing to do those jobs, if you would have been willing to hire them to do it. …

I also think that if you’re going to claim that you’re the only one that lifted this into the campaign, that you acknowledge that, for example, you’re only person on this stage that’s ever been fined for hiring people to work on your projects illegally. You hired some workers from Poland.

DONALD TRUMP: No, no. I’m the only one on the stage that’s hired people. You haven’t hired anybody.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Donald Trump and, before that, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, moderated by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Texas Senator Ted Cruz joined Rubio’s attack on Donald Trump, accusing Trump of donating to members of the Gang of Eight—a group of senators, including Marco Rubio, who came together to draft bipartisan immigration reform.

SEN. TED CRUZ: Let me say, Wolf, I really find it amazing that Donald believes that he is the one who discovered the issue of illegal immigration. I can tell you, when I ran for Senate here in the state of Texas, I ran promising to lead the fight against amnesty, promising to fight to build a wall. And in 2013, when I was leading the fight against the Gang of Eight amnesty bill, where was Donald? He was firing Dennis Rodman on Celebrity Apprentice.

And indeed, if you look at the Gang of Eight, one individual on this stage broke his promise to the men and women who elected him, and wrote the amnesty bill. But Donald funded the Gang of Eight. If you look at the eight members of the Gang of Eight, Donald gave over $50,000 to three Democrats and two Republicans. And when you’re funding open border politicians, you shouldn’t be surprised when they fight for open borders. And I think if you want to know who actually will secure the borders and follow through, you ought to ask who has a record, before they were a candidate for president, of fighting to secure the borders and stop amnesty. And I’m the only one on this stage that has that record.

And by the way, Marco is exactly right that a federal court found Donald guilty of being part of a conspiracy—

WOLF BLITZER: Thank you.

SEN. TED CRUZ: —to hire people illegally, and entered a $1 million judgment against him.


DONALD TRUMP: I can only say this, and I’ve said it loud and clear, and I’ve said it for years. And many of these people are sitting right in the audience right now—your lobbyists and your special interests and your donors, because the audience is packed with them, and they’re packed with you.

I’ve had an amazing relationship with politicians—with politicians, both Democrat, Republican, because I was a businessman. As one magazine said, he’s a world-class businessman, he was friendly with everybody. I got along with everybody.

You get along with nobody. You don’t have one Republican—you don’t have one Republican senator, and you work with them every day of your life, although you skipped a lot of time. These are minor details. But you don’t have one Republican senator backing you. Not one. You don’t have the endorsement of one Republican senator, and you work with these people.

WOLF BLITZER: Senator Cruz?

DONALD TRUMP: You should be ashamed of yourself.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Donald Trump responding to Texas Senator Ted Cruz in an exchange moderated by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer at last night’s debate, which was hosted by CNN, Telemundo and the Salem Media Group.

This comes as a new exposé by The New York Times shows how Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, has hired hundreds of foreign workers, rather than hire U.S.-born workers who applied for the same jobs. The investigation shows that since 2010 nearly 300 U.S. residents have applied for jobs at Trump’s exclusive club, but instead the club has sought more than 500 visas for foreign workers.

Well, to talk more about immigration and how the candidates addressed it last night and the overall issue in this country, Jose Antonio Vargas is with us, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and filmmaker, founder and editor of #EmergingUS, founder of Define American, the producer and director of two documentary films, one called Documented and the other titled White People. He was writing for The Washington Post when he came out as undocumented.

Jose Antonio Vargas, it’s great to have you with us. Respond to what you just heard in the debate.

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: I’m having a hard time hearing you. Can you hear me, Amy?

AMY GOODMAN: Jose, can you hear us?

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: Yeah, I can hear you.


JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: Can you hear me?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, we hear you fine. Can you respond to—


AMY GOODMAN: —what you just heard in the debate, the debate where you have Donald Trump and—


AMY GOODMAN: —Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz going at it over the issue of immigration?

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: Well, you know, I have to say, as a journalist, it’s rather frustrating to hear candidates debate immigration, and it’s even more frustrating to hear journalists, right?—people like Wolf Blitzer—right?—people like Chuck Todd, for example. Marco Rubio made a claim again last night about, you know, we’re not going to do anything until we secure the border. Right? This is what Marco Rubio has been saying now for months. And it’s really hard to get a reporter to say, “Wait a second. According to facts…” I mean, the Pew Research Center says that undocumented immigration in this country has been the same level for five years. The Center for Migration Studies said that it’s actually down, up to like, I think, 10.3 undocumented immigrants, the lowest number since 2003. Now, these are facts. Like why couldn’t Wolf Blitzer say that last night? Why can’t Chuck Todd call Marco Rubio out when he says that? And I just don’t understand the vast majority of misinformation that’s out there when it comes to an issue like immigration, which has been central to this campaign, and why a lot of journalists just don’t know the facts and don’t call out the candidates for not knowing the facts.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jose, what about this issue of virtually all the Republican candidates seeking to outdo each other—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —in how tough they’re going to be on the undocumented or on illegal immigration into the United States?

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: Juan, isn’t it incredible to see? I mean, if you’ve got to put this into context last night, I mean, I was really—it was really wonderful, in a way—right?—to see Marco Rubio call Donald Trump out. But at the same time, you’re looking at Marco Rubio and what his own record on this issue is. And you look at the two Hispanic, you know, candidates for president, who are trying to out-Trump Trump, when it comes to illegal immigration in this country. Now, look, I mean, they’re free, of course, to think what they want and to promote policy that they want. But given their own immigration history in this country, where is compassion? Where is empathy? Where is the sense of humanity when it comes to talking about this issue?

AMY GOODMAN: During Thursday night’s debate, CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Donald Trump about Mexico’s refusal to pay for the wall Trump has promised to build on the border.

WOLF BLITZER: The spokesman for the current president of Mexico says that will never happen. The last two presidents of Mexico say that will never happen. In fact, the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, he said today—and I’m quoting him—he said, “I’m not going to pay for that,” quote, “effing wall.” So if you don’t get an actual check from the Mexican government for eight or 10 or 12 billion dollars, whatever it will cost, how are you going to make them pay for the wall?

DONALD TRUMP: I will, and the wall just got 10 feet taller, believe me. Just got 10 feet taller. I saw him make that—I saw him make the statement. I saw him use the word that he used. I can only tell you, if I would have used even half of that word, it would have been national scandal. This guy used a filthy, disgusting word on television, and he should be ashamed of himself, and he should apologize, OK? Number one. Number two, we have a trade deficit with Mexico of $58 billion a year. And that doesn’t include all the drugs that are pouring across and destroying our country. We’re going to make them pay for that wall.

WOLF BLITZER: If the Mexicans don’t pay for the wall, will you start a trade war with Mexico?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, you know, I don’t mind trade wars when we’re losing $58 billion a year, you want to know the truth. We’re losing so much.

AMY GOODMAN: There was Donald Trump responding to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. I don’t know why Wolf Blitzer stopped at trade war. Would he start a hot war? Would he start a war with Mexico over this, the question? But, Jose Antonio Vargas, your response? His response to the former president of Mexico that he wouldn’t pay for the effing wall was, Donald Trump said, then we’ll build it 10 feet higher.

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: Look, again, 40 percent of the undocumented population in this country overstayed their visa. They didn’t go through that wall. The fastest-growing undocumented population in this country are Asian undocumented immigrants, not Latino immigrants. This is why, by the way, I mean, I know, Amy, that you mentioned #EmergingUS. We need more original, independent reporting on immigration and race and American identity in this country. And I have to tell you, I’m really proud to talk about this at Democracy Now!, given how much a fan I am of this program. We need more independent news organizations to do this kind of reporting and this kind of work. So we launched this historic crowdfunding campaign. When you go to, we’re trying to raise money to crowdfund journalism. A million dollars, that’s the most that’s ever been done in this country. We need more reporting on this issue, especially in this campaign.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Jose, I wanted to ask you—you mentioned the fast-growing Asian immigrant population in the United States, but in this election cycle, there’s been virtually no discussion of the Asian-American community. It’s all been either what’s the response of African-American voters or Latino voters. Most of the polls don’t show any sense of what’s going on in the Asian-American community. Your sense, as originally born in the Philippines, about that?

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: I’m Filipino, yeah. Isn’t it kind of incredible? I mean, it’s almost like Asian people don’t even exist. I mean, according to the entrance polls in the Nevada Democratic caucus, at least 5 percent of the voters in the Nevada Democratic caucus are Asian—many of them Filipinos, by the way. But that didn’t get any mention. I think on MSNBC, they actually called Asian people “other.” Now, Asian people, again, are the fastest-growing immigrant population, the fastest-growing racial group and the fastest-growing undocumented population. In Texas, where this—you know, part of Super Tuesday, there’s about a million Asian residents in Texas alone. Right? There’s about 10 million Latinos and about 1 million Asians. But we’re not at all a part of the conversation.

I actually was talking about this with a few Asian journalists who are working in newsrooms, who have to keep fighting, saying, like, you know, “Hey, should we be part of polls? Should we—you know, we should be a part of the conversation.” I’m really sad to say—you know, I got started in journalism in 1999, when I was in high school. There are less journalists of color now in American newsrooms than they were when I was starting in 1999. I mean, Democracy Now! is actually an exception to this. I mean, you know, you guys, this is a diverse program. That’s not the case in, apparently, many, many newsrooms in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Jose, very—

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: And we see that in the reporting.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, your own story—can you talk about when you came out as undocumented—


AMY GOODMAN: —as a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at The Washington Post?

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: Well, I have to say, you know, I prepared for the worst when I outed myself almost five years ago now. I wasn’t sure what the government was going to do. I certainly didn’t prepare for perpetual limbo. And I didn’t think that I would be an entrepreneur, which is what I’ve been. Right? I just started a media company called, you know, And I didn’t prepare for that. But, hey, as long as I’m here, I’m certainly not going to self-deport, Mr. Trump and Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz. There is not going to be any self-deportation. What is going to happen is I’m starting, and we’re going to have a more honest conversation about immigration and race in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s interesting you say that, because it’s—

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: That’s what we’re going to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Of course, it was Mitt Romney who talked about self-deportation, and now he is attacking Donald Trump.


AMY GOODMAN: But I want to turn to your trailer for your new project, #EmergingUS, a part of it.


JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: A new chapter in American history has begun. The minority is becoming the majority. It’s time to talk about us. All of us. Help us tell America’s story.

AMY GOODMAN: Just a highlight of #EmergingUS. Your final comments on, in this presidential election year, what you feel is missing from the conversation, Jose?

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: Well, what is missing is a more truthful conversation about where this country is going. Look, the country is only going to get gayer—there’s only going to be more gay people coming out—more Asian, more Latino, more black. Right? And women will break every possible barrier there is, and should be broken. You know, what’s at stake in this country, in many ways—right?—is kind of the soul of a lot of heterosexual white men, right? And we are seeing, in some ways, kind of a panic happening. And you see that in the Donald Trump campaign. I mean, David Duke—you just mentioned this—telling people if they value their race, they should support Donald Trump. Now, look, this is a conversation that in this country we should have. In California, where I am right now—right?—white Americans are part of an emerging racial minority. We need to have a more honest conversation about race, immigration and identity in this country. And that’s why we started And I hope—

AMY GOODMAN: Jose Antonio Vargas, I want to thank—

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: —you know, that people visit it.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, go ahead. The website?

JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: I just hope that people visit our site. And I would love, by the way, to figure out how to work with Democracy Now!, so we can get more of these honest reports out.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jose Antonio Vargas, I look forward to that, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and filmmaker, founder and editor of #EmergingUS and founder of Define American.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to Lee Fang in San Francisco, and then we’ll talk to a young woman who interrupted a private fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in Charleston, South Carolina. The Democratic primary takes place in South Carolina on Saturday. Stay with us.

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