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Clinton & Sanders Spar on Immigration Reform, Deportations & U.S. Imperialism in Latin America

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In the 2016 race for the White House, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders squared off in a debate at Miami-Dade College in Florida sponsored by the Spanish-language network Univision. The two candidates clashed on issues including immigration, trade policy, Latin America and more. Both candidates vowed not to deport children, while Clinton attacked Sanders for opposing a 2007 immigration bill. Sanders also spoke out against U.S. military intervention in Latin America after being shown a 1985 clip of him praising Fidel Castro. “What that was about was saying that the United States was wrong to try to invade Cuba, that the United States was wrong trying to support people to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, that the United States was wrong trying to overthrow in 1954 the democratically elected government of Guatemala,” Sanders said. The debate comes one day after Sanders’ surprise victory in the Michigan primary.

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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: With less than a week before voters head to the polls in Florida, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders sparred last night in a debate in Miami hosted by Univision. Large portions of the debate focused on immigration. Facing questioning by moderator Jorge Ramos, both candidates promised not to deport children or noncriminal undocumented immigrants.

JORGE RAMOS: But again, yes or no, can you promise tonight that you won’t deport children, children who are already here?

HILLARY CLINTON: I will not deport children. I would not deport children. I do not want to deport family members, either, Jorge. I want to, as I said, prioritize who would be deported: violent criminals, people planning terrorist attacks, anybody who threatens us. That’s a relatively small universe.

JORGE RAMOS: OK, so I want to be very specific. So, you’re telling us tonight that if you become president, you won’t deport children who are already here?


JORGE RAMOS: And that you won’t deport immigrants who don’t have a criminal record.

HILLARY CLINTON: That’s what—that’s what I’m telling you.

JORGE RAMOS: Senator, Senator Sanders, will you—can you promise us tonight that you won’t deport children?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Now, I happen to agree with President Obama on many, many issues. I think he’s done a great job as president of the United States. He is wrong on this issue of deportation. I disagree with him on that. So, to answer your question, no, I will not deport children from the United States of America.

JORGE RAMOS: And can you promise not to deport immigrants who don’t have a criminal record?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I can make that promise.

AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton repeatedly criticized Bernie Sanders for voting against a 2007 immigration reform bill.

HILLARY CLINTON: I think our best chance was in 2007, when Ted Kennedy led the charge on comprehensive immigration reform. We had Republican support. We had a president willing to sign it. I voted for that bill. Senator Sanders voted against it.

MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: Now, Senator Sanders, in 2007, you voted against immigration reform. You now say that it was because the bill had guest worker provisions which seemed semi-slavery. But back then, this is what you said to CNN’s Lou Dobbs. Let’s listen.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: If poverty is increasing and if wages are going down, I don’t know why we need millions of people to be coming into this country as guest workers who will work for lower wages than American workers and drive wages down even lower than they are right now.

MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: So, Senator, were you concerned with working conditions for guest workers, or really because you think immigrants drive down wages and take jobs from Americans?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, you have guest worker programs that have been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the important institutions in this country who studies these issues, as guest worker programs akin to slavery, where people came in, they were cheated, they were abused, they were humiliated, and if they stood up for their rights, they would be thrown out of the country. Of course that type of effort leads to a race to the bottom for all of our people.

HILLARY CLINTON: You know, I think it’s very hard to make the case that Ted Kennedy, Barack Obama, me, La Raza, United Farm Workers, Dolores Huerta, leaders of the Latino community, would have supported a bill that actually promoted modern slavery. That was one of the many excuses used not to vote for the 2007 bill.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: While Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders took jabs at Donald Trump, Clinton was questioned about her voting record to expand security along the Mexican border.

MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: But the question is: What is the difference between the wall that you voted for and Donald Trump’s wall?

HILLARY CLINTON: It’s a big difference. I mean, first of all, as I understand him, he’s talking about a very tall wall—right?—a beautiful, tall wall, the most beautiful, tall wall, better than the Great Wall of China, that would run the entire border, that he would somehow magically get the Mexican government to pay for. And, you know, it’s just fantasy. And, in fact, if he cared to know anything about what members of Congress, like the senator and I, have done, where it was necessary, we did support some fencing. Where it was necessary, we did add Border Patrol agents. We have done what by any fair estimate would have to conclude is a good job, quote, “securing the border.” So let’s get about the business of comprehensive immigration reform.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Let me just say—


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: The secretary and I mostly, I think, agree on this issue. Look, in this country, immigration reform is a very hot debate. It’s divided the country. But I would hope very much that as we have that debate, we do not, as Donald Trump and others have done, resort to racism and xenophobia and bigotry. This idea of suddenly, one day or maybe a night, rounding up 11 million people and taking them outside of this country is a vulgar, absurd idea that I would hope very few people in America support.

AMY GOODMAN: The candidates also discussed the Puerto Rican debt crisis.

HILLARY CLINTON: The Congress must give authority to Puerto Rico to restructure its debts, just like it has—it has enabled states and cities to restructure their debt. And it is a grave injustice for the Congress, led by the Republicans, to be refusing to enact that opportunity within the bankruptcy law.

And what we see in Puerto Rico now is a lot of suffering. We see, you know, schools being closed. We see healthcare being denied. And we see a thousand Puerto Rican families a month moving to the United States, mostly to Florida. Puerto Ricans are citizens of America. They deserve to be treated as citizens and to be given the opportunity to get back on their feet economically.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: When you get to Puerto Rico, there’s an issue that we have not talked about. That little island is $73 billion in debt, and the government now is paying interest rates of up to 11 percent. And many of the bonds that they are paying off were purchased by vulture capitalists for 30 cents on the dollar. And what I have said in talking to the leaders of Puerto Rico, we’ve got to bring people together. And it’s not the people of Puerto Rico or the children—


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: —or the schools, but maybe some of these vulture capitalists who are going to have to lose a little bit of money in this process.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: During the debate, Univision questioned Bernie Sanders about comments he made during the 1980s about Cuba and Nicaragua.

MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: In 1985, you praised the Sandinista government, and you said that Daniel Ortega was an impressive guy. This is what you said about Fidel Castro. Let’s listen.

MAYOR BERNIE SANDERS: You may recall way back in—when was it?—1961, they invaded Cuba. And everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world, all the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro. They forgot that he educated their kids, gave them healthcare, totally transformed the society.

MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: In South Florida, there are still open wounds among some exiles regarding socialism and communism. So please explain what is the difference between the socialism—


MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: —that you profess and the socialism in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, let me just answer that. What that was about was saying that the United States was wrong to try to invade Cuba, that the United States was wrong trying to support people to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, that the United States was wrong trying to overthrow in 1954 the government—democratically elected government of Guatemala. Throughout the history of our relationship with Latin America, we’ve operated under the so-called Monroe Doctrine. And that said that the United States had the right do anything that they wanted to do in Latin America.

So I actually went to Nicaragua, and I very strongly opposed the Reagan administration’s effort to overthrow that government. And I strongly opposed earlier Henry Kissinger and the—to overthrow the government of Salvador Allende in Chile. I think the United States should be working with governments around the world, not get involved in regime change. And all of these actions, by the way, in Latin America brought forth a lot of very strong anti-American sentiments. That’s what that was about.

HILLARY CLINTON: And I just want to add one thing to the question you were asking Senator Sanders. I think in that same interview he praised what he called the revolution of values in Cuba and talked about how people were working for the common good, not for themselves. I just couldn’t disagree more. You know, if the values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, you imprison people, even kill people, for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: At the Univision debate, Hillary Clinton was also questioned about her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

JORGE RAMOS: So, who specifically gave you permission to operate your email system as you did? Was it President Barack Obama? And would you drop out of the race if you get indicted?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, Jorge, there’s a lot of questions in there. And I’m going to give the same answer I’ve been giving for many months. It wasn’t the best choice. I made a mistake. It was not prohibited. It was not in any way disallowed. And as I’ve said and as now has come out, my predecessors did the same thing, and many other people in the government.

JORGE RAMOS: The questions were: Who gave you permission to operate?


JORGE RAMOS: Was it President Obama?

HILLARY CLINTON: There was no permission to be asked. It had been done by my predecessors. It was permitted. I didn’t have to ask anyone.

JORGE RAMOS: If you get indicted, would you drop out?

HILLARY CLINTON: Oh, for goodness—that is not going to happen. I’m not even answering that question.

AMY GOODMAN: Highlights from last night’s Univision debate in Miami, Florida. It was the last Democratic debate before voters go to the polls in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio. The Republicans debate tonight at the University of Miami. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll be joined by military historian, by retired Colonel Andrew Bacevich. He is asking why questions on foreign policy are not being asked of any of the candidates. And he says that Donald Trump is not only changing the Republican Party, but changing America forever. Stay with us.

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Andrew Bacevich: Why Is No Candidate Offering an Alternative to Militarized U.S. Foreign Policy?

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