Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
Yes, immigration got more air time, but a lot of questions remain unanswered.
Tuesday’s Democratic debate in Miami, sponsored by Spanish-language television network Univision, The Washington Post, and Facebook, put the spotlight on immigration policies just days ahead of the Florida primary. Univision’s Jorge Ramos and María Elena Salinas asked the two candidates some pointed questions on their past records, but didn’t really get them to reveal a lot more than we already know about their positions on the issue.
Here’s a couple things I did take away from the debate.
Sanders was put in some tough spots on his past record
“Madame Secretary, I will match my record against yours any day of the week,” Bernie Sanders told Hillary Clinton during the debate. And they both did go into more detail than they have in previous debates about their past stances on issues like immigration and U.S. relations with Latin American countries.
For example, Univision’s Salinas brought up a 2003 interview in which Clinton spoke vehemently against illegal immigration and asked, “So, are you flip-flopping on this issue? Or are you pandering to Latinos, what some would call ‘Hispandering’?” (Here’s a bit of history on that term.) Clinton side-stepped that question by restating the substantive list of immigration bills she’s supported—namely, the DREAM act, which she co-sponsored in the Senate, and her vote for Ted Kennedy’s 2007 immigration reform bill.
Ramos also pressed Clinton and Sanders to explicitly state whether or not they would deport children. Clinton has been criticized for equivocating on this topic in the past in discussions of the problematic deportation raids against Central American refugees. In last night’s debate, she dodged and weaved and finally relented; via the Post:
“I will not deport children. I would not deport children. I do not want to deport family members, either, Jorge.”
“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 now.”
That’s different from the reason he brandishes now, which is that guest worker programs are akin to modern-day slavery. In response to Tuesday’s debate question, Sanders reiterated that workers were exploited through these programs, and reminded everyone that he’d voted for immigration reform in 2013 despite these concerns.
Perhaps one of the tougher questions Sanders faced from the hosts was about his comments casting a favorable light on Fidel Castro’s regime in 1985, saying that “he educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed their society.” Here’s how Sanders defended those statements, which certainly didn’t go down well with the large Cuban American population in Florida, during the debate, via the Post:
“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.”
Clinton, too, came at Sanders with some serious accusations. She brought up his 2006 support for a bill spearheaded by Republican James Sensenbrenner Jr., nicknamed the “pit bull” on issues like immigration. The law called for indefinite detention of undocumented immigrants, and Sanders’s vote in favor of it has been criticized by labor and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta of United Farm Workers (which has endorsed Clinton) and members of the Democratic party.
Here’s Luis V. Gutierrez, Congressman from Illinois, writing for Univision:
The House passed a bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to be detained indefinitely and curtailed avenues to fight deportation in court. The ACLU called the bill “inhumane” and the National Council of La Raza called it a “very ugly, very harmful enforcement-only approach … to criminalize the undocumented population.” And it was a bill to which Representative Bernie Sanders said “aye.”
Clinton also accused Sanders of supporting minutemen militia—anti-immigrant vigilantes active on the U.S.-Mexico border—by voting for another 2006 bill. Sanders said that his vote for that bill didn’t translate, necessarily, into support for the hateful group, via the Post:
“No, I do not support vigilantes, and that is a horrific statement, an unfair statement to make.”
There were some real missed opportunities
While the line of questioning in Tuesday’s debate was harsher, it didn’t necessarily lead to any startling revelations. As I’ve written in the past, Sanders’s policy, as it stands now, is more detailed and goes further to protect immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants. Clinton certainly didn’t use Monday’s debate to fill in some of the bigger blanks in her plan.
Neither Sanders nor Clinton have talked much about how they intend to reform the system so people without family ties to U.S. citizens could legally immigrate to the U.S. Would they scale up or scale down “high-skilled” guest worker programs such as H1-B? Would they adjust them according to labor shortages? What protections would they put into these programs for immigrant and American workers? They’ve mentioned that they’d support green card eligibility for STEM graduates, but how would that work? How would they encourage immigrant entrepreneurship and cut the immense green card backlog? The answers to these questions still remain unclear.
In their concluding remarks, both candidates returned to their comfort zones. Sanders reverted to his spiel against Wall Street and income inequality, and Clinton to her I-can-get-all-of this-done speech about creating jobs and raising incomes. Those Americans who are interested in immigration also returned to the familiar feeling of being less-than-satisfied about the state of discourse on the topic. Here’s Julia Arce, an undocumented writer and activist: