But will they reconcile their immigration and mass incarceration messages?
Last night’s democratic debate hosted by the Washington Post and Univision was significant for multiple reasons. It was the first time in history presidential candidates received a question at a debate in Spanish. It centered the country’s growing Latino electorate. And after being a quickly passing talking point, if addressed at all in previous debates, the candidates addressed the issue of immigration directly. While Clinton called for an end to raids and said she would not deport children, Sanders named President Obama as ‘wrong on deportation.’
“It’s significant to hear the Democratic front-runners admit that the Obama strategy on immigration has been a mistake,” explains Marisa Franco, Director of the #Not1More Campaign. “His triangulation of criminalizing immigrants in order to legalize them has had a devastating toll. Instead of appeasing Republicans, it only moved the conversation further to the Right. It will take more than just playing on the fear of Trump to convince our community that Democrats are turning over a new leaf. The President and current candidates need to address the Trump factor within the ways current immigration policy is made and enforced.”
Much of the candidates questions were prompted by what coverage after the event agreed was in fact the most stand-out moment of the debate; when Lucia Quiej, a Guatemalan mother of five whose husband was deported, shared her story and asked the candidates what they would do. Tania Unzueta, Policy Director for the #Not1More Campaign reflected, “The question that turned heads at the debate shows where real power in the immigration debate is located. When immigrants are able to speak for ourselves instead of through pundits or beltway spinsters, the debate undeniably changes.”
But while the candidates sought distance from current inhumane policy, they continued to parrot the ‘felons not families’ line of the administration. Unzueta continued, “I also need to see how the candidates would respond to the question of immigrants who are racially profiled and criminalized every day. What the candidates told audiences in Flint about mass incarceration was not present in what they discussed in Miami about immigration. At a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has made visible how racist policing serves to criminalize people, it doesn’t make sense to continue to separate the debate on criminalization and immigration or to divide our community into good and bad immigrants based on it.”