2020 Presidential Candidates Discuss Immigration At LA Forum

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks at a campaign stop on May 15, 2019 in Nashua, New Hampshire (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) / Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) fields questions from audience members during a town hall at the Fort Museum on May 4, 2019 in Fort Dodge, Iowa (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Immigrant advocates today hosted four Democratic presidential candidates at the Pasadena Hilton for a forum on immigration issues. Joining the forum were Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee and former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.

The invitation-only event was hosted by the CHIRLA Action fund, the political arm of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, along with other advocacy groups. Candidates addressed questions from moderators and from invited audience members, including immigrants and activists.

The questions were pretty specific to how each candidate would shape U.S. immigration policies and handle current issues, including the spike in asylum-seeking families arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Virtually all the Democratic presidential hopefuls are united around their condemnation of the Trump administration's immigration policies, and pretty much all of them said they would push comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S.

In response to a question from Diana Bautista, a 16-year-old high school junior who along with her parents is in the U.S. illegally, Sanders said, "We will introduce major, comprehensive immigration reform with a path towards citizenship within the first 100 days."

Sanders added, "We will expand the DACA program immediately to provide legal protection to you so you don't have to be afraid of going out on the street and being arrested. We will protect your parents as well by expanding the DACA program to include them."

But that was about as specific as Sanders got on the topic. Last month he said that he doesn't support "open borders." And other than his comments about providing a path to citizenship for those who were brought here as children, Sanders stuck with more of his general themes, like campaign reform, prison reform and free public colleges and universities, including for immigrant youths.

A couple of candidates have already rolled out their own immigration plans. Inslee had already come out in support of protecting young unauthorized immigrants, and in the past has expressed support for refugees in his state. Today he talked about wanting to restore refugee admissions to Obama-era levels, before the Trump administration slashed refugee admissions to the record lows we have seen lately.

"And it is time to reestablish an American values system of being a place of refuge. And that's why I'm proposing we go back up to about 110,000, where this number belongs, and bringing refugees back into the United States," Inslee said.

Inslee also talked about rolling back other Trump actions — for example, restoring DACA protections to young people who were brought here as children but don't have legal status. He talked about stopping family separations at the border as more families seek asylum, and making sure asylum seekers get a fair hearing. The Trump administration has made it harder for people to obtain asylum.

Senator Kamala Harris speaks at the Unity and Freedom Presidential Forum on immigration policy hosted at the Hilton Pasadena by CHIRLA, Community Change Action, and FIRM Action on Friday, May 31, 2019 (Photo by Andrew Cullen for LAist)

Harris has been fairly outspoken on immigration issues, and Friday was no different. She was asked how she would use executive authority, given the way President Trump has used executive actions to make all sorts of policy changes without congressional approval. Harris said she would want to use executive power to roll back some of Trump's decisions. For example, she said she would immediately reinstate the DACA program. She said she would also reinstate Temporary Protected Status for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from countries like Haiti and El Salvador, who've had that protection rescinded and could face deportation if the courts side with the administration.

Harris also said she'd roll back the so-called "Muslim ban" that Trump first announced soon after his inauguration, which has since restricted travel and immigration from several Muslim-majority countries. She also said she wanted to reform immigrant detention — right now, it's mostly done by private for-profit prison companies.

"And under my administration, we will not fund private detention facilities any longer," Harris said.

Former HUD Secretary and Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro speaks at the Unity and Freedom Presidential Forum on immigration policy hosted at the Hilton Pasadena by CHIRLA, Community Change Action, and FIRM Action on Friday, May 31, 2019. Andrew Cullen for LAist (Photo by Andrew Cullen for LAist)

Castro, who formerly served as mayor of San Antonio, recently released his own immigration plan calling for a path to citizenship. He talked about his own family's immigrant roots, and he was pretty specific about some of the things he'd want to accomplish. Among these things, Castro told attendees that as president, he would "do everything I could" to eliminate the private prison industry.

In reference to Section 287(g) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, which authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to deputize selected state and local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law, Castro said that "I have proposed getting rid of 287(g) and doing away with ICE detainers, as well."

For its part, the audience expressed tremendous frustration on Friday with the policies of the Trump administration. People talked about policies that are dehumanizing and, as they put it, motivated by ethnic and racial bias.

UPDATES:

7:15 p.m.: This article was updated with more quotes and audience reactions from the forum.

4:50 p.m.: This article was updated with quotes from the forum.

This article was originally published at 10:59 a.m. on May 31