Sanders hones in on immigration, domestic terrorism and foreign policy during Latinx town hall at UNLV
Kimberly Arellano told Sen. Bernie Sanders that her family’s predicament started when a Las Vegas police officer pulled her mother over for a traffic ticket and then turned her over to ICE.
Arellano’s mother Adriana Arellano is currently facing deportation, and her question for the presidential candidate was whether he would end the 287(g) agreement with ICE that enabled Las Vegas police to apprehend and begin the process of deporting her mother. Sanders answered affirmatively, adding that he would enact a moratorium on deportations.
The exchange came at a Latinx town hall Saturday afternoon organized by Mijente Support Committee, a national advocacy group that plans to host similar Q&A sessions with several other presidential candidates leading up to the election. Following an earlier speech Sanders gave on his housing plan, the town hall at UNLV dove into some of the Latino community’s most pressing issues — racial profiling of Hispanics in the El Paso shooting, immigration, criminal justice reform and foreign policy.
“Our lives are on the line in the 2020 presidential election,” said host Stephanie Llanes, a lawyer with the civil rights group Protect Democracy who is representing Border Network for Human Rights and the City of El Paso in a lawsuit against President Donald Trump.
“We need to protect our families, reverse damaging policies inflicted on our people and construct a path forward that unites our entire community,” Llanes said in the town hall introduction.
Latinos make up 28 percent of Nevada’s population, with approximately 790,000 residing in Las Vegas. In the 2018 midterm elections, Latinos accounted for 12.8 percent of all eligible voters, up from 11 percent in 2016.
Democrats acknowledge that they can’t win Nevada without a decisive victory among Latino voters.
At the town hall, the senator took questions prepared by Mijente and from members of the audience, starting with addressing concerns about the threat white supremacy poses to the Latino communities across America and what he would do about it if elected in 2020.
“I will, as president of the United States, go to war against white supremacy,” Sanders said.
The presidential candidate offered his own backstory of his father, who immigrated from Poland to escape the Nazi regime. Because of the experience Sanders’ family had with white supremacy, he added that the issue was not an abstract idea to him.
At the town hall, the senator proposed specific policies to stop white nationalists, such as making hate crimes a federal offense and providing infrastructure for government agencies to investigate these groups.
“If somebody is going into a church, as was the case in Charleston [four] years ago, or a synagogue, as was the case in Pittsburgh last year, if somebody is hunting down and trying to massacre people because of the color of their skin or their religion, we’re talking about domestic terrorism,” Sanders said.
In what was perhaps the hardest-hitting segment of the town hall — criminal justice reform — Sanders was asked to justify his yes vote for the 1994 crime bill. Progressive groups say the bill, which sought to fund 100,000 police officers and provide billions of dollars for prisons and crime prevention programs, did not necessarily end violence against women or increase public safety in a way that was equitable.
“We also know this bill has contributed to mass incarceration, especially felt by communities of color. And in terms of [the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)], those resources [were] put into punitive legal systems,” said Llanes. “One of the most alarming current trends is that women are the highest growing population in prison, particularly black women, including black Latina women.”
The Democrat-sponsored bill was written by then-Sen. Joe Biden and passed with 54 percent, bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, of which Sanders was a member at the time. More than a third of House Democrats voted against it.
Echoing presidential debates the senator had with Clinton in 2016, Sanders said he voted for the House bill because he supported the federal assault weapons ban and VAWA therein.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that VAWA had exceeded its constitutional authority in trying to give women who were victims of sexual violence the ability to sue for civil damages in federal courts. The decision resulted from United States vs. Morrison, in which Christy Brzonkala filed a lawsuit for financial burdens she had suffered from repeated rape and assault while she was in college.
“It was the promise that I made to the people in my state. The Violence Against Women Act [seemed] right [but there were] many bad things that were in the bill and I made that clear. I didn’t write that bill. Sometimes in Congress you’re forced to vote on a bill,” Sanders said.
When the conversation moved to foreign policy, Sanders spoke on why he opposed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act or PROMESA, signed into law by Barack Obama in 2016. The act established a federal fiscal control board of seven unelected people to govern Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory whose infrastructure has worsened because of recent hurricanes.
“The history of the United States’ relationship to Latin America has been — to say paternalistic, would be an understatement,” Sanders said.
PROMESA was proposed and justified as a strategy to address Puerto Rico’s $72 billion debt. Sanders believes the correct approach would be, instead, to cancel the debt.
“Congress has essentially stripped Puerto Rico of almost any semblance of democracy … What this is about is essentially telling [Puerto Rico’s] legislature that [the United States is] writing the budgets and cutting back on workers pensions, cutting back on education, cutting back on healthcare,” he added.
In the hour he had, the presidential candidate also touched on curbing the effects of climate change on Latino and other vulnerable communities. Sanders said his $16 trillion climate change and clean energy plan would be worth the Latino community and everyone’s buy-in.
“Please tell me, what is the cost of not addressing the crisis?” Sanders said. “In the Bahamas, in Puerto Rico, in New Orleans and in Charleston, we are seeing what climate change is doing to people all over the world.”
The senator offered the Bahamas and post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans as examples of how the poor are hit hardest by hurricanes because their homes are more easily destroyed. And those without money have greater difficulties rebuilding and getting back on their feet after catastrophic storms hit, he said.
Sanders also touted how his climate change plan would create 20 million new jobs in clean energy industries including manufacturing, infrastructure and sustainable agriculture. Critics question whether the plan will play out in a way that actually creates jobs and fosters diversity in those industries, especially for people of color.
The Latinx town hall was part of Sanders’ two-day visit to Northern and Southern Nevada. The presidential candidate is scheduled to return to Las Vegas for a presidential gun safety forum on October 2.