By Mrinal Gokhale
The annual League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Convention was held in the Wisconsin Center this year, attracting thousands of attendees from July 10-13. The most attended event was the presidential candidate town hall on the evening of Jul 11.
This event featured four Democratic presidential candidates: Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA), Senator Bernie Sanders (VT), former Congressman Beto O’Rourke (TX) and Julian Castro (TX). Each spoke for 20 minutes on how they would reform immigration and other issues if elected in 2020.
Castro is the former mayor of San Antonio and former HUD secretary. He stated that if elected into office, he would ensure children are not separated from their parents if deported, and he also believes that crossing the border illegally shouldn’t be treated as a felony.
“We treated crossing the border as a civil violation, not a criminal violation. After September 11, it was treated as a crime, and a lot of the problems we’re seeing today exploded,” he said. “I’ve called for the repeal of Section 1325.”
He added that he would address the root cause of why families may cross the border to the country as well.
“People should find safety and opportunity at home, instead of having to come to the United States,” he said.
He was also asked by an audience member how he would work with Republicans in Congress to reduce gun violence in the United States.
“I believe in common sense gun reform. We need universal background checks, we need to limit the capacity of magazines, and ban assault weapons,” he said. “We also need to end the distinction between mental healthcare and physical healthcare.”
When asked about economic development, Castro expressed that he wants to make education, healthcare, and job opportunities more accessible.
“I’m focused on what all Americans care about. They can have good healthcare and job opportunities, whether they live in big cities or small towns,” he said.
Senator Warren announced a new immigration reform plan on the day of this town hall. She described the current immigration system as “broken” both before and after President Donald Trump was elected.
Her immigration plan includes three parts: expanding legal immigration, creating a path to citizenship for everyone that is fair and achievable, eliminating the border crisis.
“No great nation tears families apart and locks up children,” she said. “We also need to provide more aid around the world, particularly in Central America.”
Mental health accessibility was another topic that Warren was asked about by an audience member.
“When you go to an emergency room and say ‘I think I broke my leg,’ they find a way to treat you,” Warren said. “If you come in with a mental health problem, they tell you to come back in three weeks.”
She promised that she would ensure mental and physical health are treated equally.
“Here is my promise to you. Mental health issues matter to me, and I have courage to take on insurance companies across the country to ensure they provide equal coverage and so does this government,” she said.
Education, criminal justice reform, and climate change were the other topics Warren addressed. She promised to implement a green manufacturing bill, close for-profit prisons, and make college affordable for all if elected.
Economic development was the first issue Senator Sanders discussed. He began by telling the story of his father, an immigrant from Poland, who came to the United States with little money.
“All that we’re doing is what the American people want us to do. We want an economy and government that works for all of us, not just the one percent,” he said.
He believes that housing should be more affordable and that tax breaks for the wealthy should be reduced. He added that he feels education past high school should be tuition free.
“I don’t believe it’s about giving massive tax breaks to those who don’t need it when we have 500,000 people sleeping in the streets in the country today,” Sanders said. “We need affordable housing so people don’t pay 50% of their income on housing.”
Sanders also stated that more needs to be done about the climate change.
“I will go to Russia, China, Brazil, India and other countries and tell them that instead of spending trillions of dollars in weapons to kill human beings, we should come together and fight our common enemy, which is climate change.”
Former Congressman O’Rourke spoke about his views of immigration, equal pay, minimum wage, and criminal justice.
When asked for a reaction on Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s plan to seek out and deport undocumented immigrants in nine cities this week, O’Rourke said that he plans to re-write the laws to reduce these deportations.
“I will lead the effort in rewriting our immigration laws in our own image, to reflect our values, the reality on the ground here in Milwaukee, El Paso, across this country, that the very presence of immigrants makes us stronger, makes us more successful, and makes us safer and more secure,” he said.
He added that undocumented individuals who fear law enforcement are less likely to report crimes.
Watch full event coverage at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfbF5G4-48A