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“We Don’t Want Another President Obama”: Activist Urges Democrats to Reframe Immigration Debate

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Democratic candidates also sparred on immigration policy, from decriminalizing border crossing to providing healthcare to undocumented immigrants. We hear excerpts of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as well as Montana Governor Steve Bullock. Plus we speak to Erika Andiola, chief advocacy officer for RAICES, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We’re also joined by Erika Andiola of RAICES. Erika, I wanted to get your reaction to the debate. It seemed to me that compared to the first round of debates, the Democratic candidates were a lot more muted, in some instances, on the issue of immigration and what their policies would be. I want to turn to an exchange between Montana Governor Steve Bullock and Senator Elizabeth Warren on immigration. This begins with a question from moderator Dana Bash.

DANA BASH: Governor Bullock, about two-thirds of Democratic voters and many of your rivals here for the nomination support giving health insurance to undocumented immigrants. You haven’t gone that far. Why not?

GOV. STEVE BULLOCK: Look, I think this is a part of the discussion that shows how often these debates are detached from people’s lives. We’ve got 100,000 people showing up at the border right now. If we decriminalize entry, if we give healthcare to everyone, we’ll have multiples of that. Don’t take my word. That was President Obama’s homeland security secretary that said that. The biggest problem right now that we have with immigration, it’s Donald Trump. He’s using immigration to not only rip apart families, but rip apart this country. We can actually get to the point where we have safe borders, where we have a path to citizenship, where we have opportunities for DREAMers. And you don’t have to decriminalize everything. What you have to do is have a president in there with the judgment and the decency to treat someone that comes to the border like one of our own.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: You know, I just want—

DANA BASH: Senator, again on this, he just said your plan is unrealistic. How do you respond?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: You know, I think that what we have to do is we have to be an America that is clear about what we want to do with immigration. We need to expand legal immigration. We need to create a path for citizenship, not just for DREAMers, but for grandmas and for people who have been working here in the farms and for students who have overstayed their visas. We need to fix the crisis at the border. And a big part of how we do that is we do not play into Donald Trump’s hands.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Senator Elizabeth Warren and, before her, Montana Governor Steve Bullock. Erika Andiola, your response to the immigration portion of the debate?

ERIKA ANDIOLA: Yeah, yeah. I definitely think it was a different type of debate this time around. And I do think, you know, that the presence of Julián Castro in the last debate, in one of the last debates, was definitely a shift in the conversation, which I didn’t see as much this time.

And I really hope—you know, I actually was listening also to the debate around trade policies. And, to me, it’s like, how are you not speaking to what are also the push factors? How are you not speaking to what’s—why is even the reason that we have people coming into the U.S. from countries that we have done so much in, either because of our trade policies or because we have, you know, been intervening in their government? And so, a lot of these conversations are not coming up.

And, to me, you know, we keep going back to that same talking points of, you know, we need a path to citizenship, and we need to secure the borders. But in reality, there is a lot more to that. President Obama was exactly saying the same things when he was running for president. He came as a Democrat, deported millions and millions and millions of people. And now we’re in the situation where that machine that he created was turned into a Trump machine, which is even worse for the immigrant community. And, to me, it was just really, really shameful to see that none of the actual candidates are saying that. And, to me, it’s scary, because I don’t want to have another Democratic president that’s going to act like Obama on immigration and that is not recognizing the reason why people are actually migrating here.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Bernie Sanders on immigration.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: The main point I want to make is that what Trump is doing, through his racism and his xenophobia, is demonizing a group of people. And as president, I will end that demonization.

If a mother and a child walk thousands of miles on a dangerous path, in my view, they are not criminals. They are people fleeing violence. And I think the main thing that we have got to do, among many others—and Beto made this point—we’ve got to ask ourselves: Why are people walking 2,000 miles to a strange country where they don’t know the language?

So, what we will do, the first week we are in the White House, is bring the entire hemisphere together to talk about how we rebuild Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador so people do not have to flee their own countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Erika Andiola, if you could respond to what Senator Sanders said?

ERIKA ANDIOLA: Yeah, and this is what I’m speaking to, right? You know, to me, why is not the entire Democratic Party already recognizing that there is something bigger than just talking about securing the borders and sending more Border Patrol agents or sending the military, or a lot of the things that we have done as—you know, within the Democratic Party and in the Trump administration. We are not actually talking about what are the real issues and how we can actually solve them. And, to me, it’s superimportant to have these conversations.

And perhaps a lot of Democrats are not necessarily—not every Democrat cares about immigration. But I can say that a lot of people in our community, who are supposed to be right now feeling like they should be going out to vote, whether it’s in the Latino community or people of color—we need people to go out and vote in November of 2020. And that’s going to happen if we’re actually talking to them about the issues that they care about, and immigration is definitely one of those issues that a lot of people in the Latino community and other communities are really waiting to hear what’s different, and, like I said before, that we’re not going to have another Democratic president that’s going to deport a record number of people, and that, yeah, we are decriminalizing people who are coming into the U.S., because they are coming for a reason. They’re fleeing violence and many other issues in Central America, as Bernie mentioned. And, you know, at the end of the day, we need to have a different strategy, because the one that Democrats have used in the past has not worked.

AMY GOODMAN: And CNN itself, Erika, in the way that it framed the questions around immigration? You saw, for example, Bernie Sanders taking on CNN around healthcare and saying that they’re using Republican talking points in framing their questions. What about immigration?

ERIKA ANDIOLA: Yeah, in many ways, some of them were doing the same thing. You know, one of the comments that, to me, was just—you know, I couldn’t help myself from laughing, you know, that people need to find the doorbell. And, you know, I even tweeted, like, “Where is the doorbell?” because my family couldn’t find it, and a lot of people we represent at RAICES can’t find it at the border.

And, you know, again, it’s just, to me, this frustration that I feel that even within the Democratic Party a lot of these issues have not evolved, you know, and they’re not going to convince our communities. They’re not going to convince the people who right now need to be feeling pushed, or not pushed, but motivated to go out and vote.

And if we continue to hear the same things from Democrats, that we just need to secure the border, it’s not going to make a difference, because, again, we don’t want another President Obama. He didn’t do a good job on immigration. He might have done a lot of other really great things for America. Immigration wasn’t one of them. And I really hope that tomorrow—or, today, actually, in the Democratic debate of tonight, that there is a recognition that Obama deported a lot of people, even being Democrat, and that that’s not going to happen again in the next administration.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, tonight, the debate will include Julián Castro, as well as Senators Kamala Harris, former Vice President Biden, Senator Booker from New Jersey. We’re speaking with Erika Andiola in Phoenix, Arizona; Dr. Abdul El-Sayed in Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Mehdi Hasan is coming to us from Washington. We’re continuing the discussion on foreign policy and the question of socialism, in a minute.

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