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Democratic Presidential Candidates Make Pitches To Latino Voters

Katie Peikes
Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke took questions from media after speaking at the LULAC presidential candidate forum in Des Moines.

Three Democratic presidential candidates courted Latino voters during a town hall Thursday in Des Moines, while a fourth spoke via prerecorded video.
Leaders with the League of United Latin American Citizens want to boost Latino voter turnout for the 2020 Iowa caucuses and the general election. They had four Democratic presidential candidates answer questions on issues like wages, health care and immigration.

“As we look at the Latino vote … the Latino community will become the largest minority voting block as we head into the 2020 elections and every 30 seconds, a Latino in the U.S. is turning 18,” said LULAC CEO Sindy Benavides. “Nine out of 10 are eligible to register to vote.”

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro was the first to speak of the four candidates. He said under his administration, his immigration system would put people on a pathway to citizenship and protect DREAMers, (immigrants who came to the United States under 18), but would also have secure borders. He talked about addressing the root causes of immigration – why people are fleeing their countries to come to the U.S.

“And we’re also going to be more thoughtful, with a 21st century Marshall Plan for Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, so people can find safety and opportunity at home instead of having to make a dangerous journey to the United States,” Castro said.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders also talked about addressing the root causes of immigration, and said the U.S. needs to work with other countries in the hemisphere on a strategy to address what they can do to improve the lives of people living in Central America and Latin America so they don’t have to flee.

“People would rather stay in their own countries with their own families with their own language, rather than travel 1,500 miles,” Sanders said.

Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke also spoke at the forum. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard appeared in a pre-recorded video, and answered some voter questions that had been given to her ahead of the event. 

The topic of immigration came up quite a bit, with the candidates sharing largely similar views on passing comprehensive immigration reform. They talked about ending President Donald Trump’s policies like separating families at the border, and establishing a pathway to citizenship.

“You talk about the high fees, the hurdles, you’ve got to hire an attorney just to be able to get there,” Gabbard said in her pre-recorded segment. “And so for those who can’t afford it, you’re left out in the dark, you’re left out on your own to pursue this very difficult undertaking.”

O’Rourke was asked about the humanitarian crisis at the southern border and what he would do to protect LGBTQ people seeking asylum. He mentioned he knew of a transgender woman who died in ICE custody in his hometown El Paso, Texas.

“For those members of the LGBTQ community who may be persecuted in their hometown or in their home country who come to ours, this beacon of freedom and liberty and hope, we must make sure that we do not deny them that hope, their civil rights, their human rights, or their very life, as we have done under this administration," O'Rourke said.

O’Rourke said he would make sure LGBTQ status is considered “as a grounds for seeking asylum in this country under law to make sure that we take care of those who need it.”

After the forum, some Iowa voters said immigration is one of the top issues they’ll be voting on in the 2020 Iowa caucuses.

“Immigration is an important issue because the Midwest needs those workers,” said Ila Plasencia of West Des Moines. “Who is running the packing plants, who works there? It’s the immigrants, the Mexicans.”

It’s also an important issue for Esdras Reyes and his wife, Corrine Reyes, of Des Moines. Esdras is originally from El Salvador, but has a green card and a work permit. Corrine is a U.S. citizen. They’re working together towards citizenship for Esdras.

“Hopefully next election I can vote. I really want to contribute, next year or next midterm election,” Esdras said.

Esdras said all of the candidates last night talked about immigration reform, which he’d like to see fixed “once and for all.”

His wife, Corrine, who was born and raised in Iowa, said she’d like to see a presidential candidate who makes a more efficient pathway to citizenship. The citizenship process is a lot harder than people on the outside perceive, she said.

“There’s a lot of bureaucratic red tape in the process that I think is unnecessary and doesn’t need to be there,” Corrine. “I know that we want to be safe in our processes but I also think that we’re getting a little crazy.”

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.