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Immigration Makes A Brief Appearance At #DemDebate, Sorta

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Thanks in large part to the Trump Effect, Republican candidates for President are guaranteed to spend significant portions of every debate seeing who can out-anti-immigrant who.

Meanwhile, immigration activists were frustrated that the topic didn’t come up during last night’s Democratic debate on MSNBC until the final few minutes — and the responses weren’t exactly what they were hoping to hear.

As Buzzfeed’s Adrian Carrasquillo notes, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders “would not commit to making [immigration] — or any other — the first priority in their domestic agenda”:

Saying that a president in their first year must make “choices” among many “heavy lifts,” MSNBC moderator Chuck Todd asked whether either candidate would use limited political capital on the thorny issue that has gained bipartisan support in past years.

President Obama, he said, focused on health care arguably at the expense of immigration.

“Had he put immigration reform first, perhaps that gets done and healthcare doesn’t,” Todd said to Clinton. “So there are three big lifts that you’ve talked about: immigration, gun reform, climate change. What do you do first? Because you know the first one is the one you have the best shot at getting done.”

“I don’t accept that premise, Chuck,” Clinton began, outlining her intention to promote an “ambitious, big, bold agenda” that includes improving health care, economic revitalization, early childhood education, and paid family leave as well as major change to the immigration system.

Sanders, too, would not commit to making immigration an early priority, returning instead to two of his key issues: campaign finance and the need for a political revolution that he argued will help blacks and Latinos by improving health care, criminal justice, and more. His litmus test for Supreme Court justices in his administration would be whether they would overturn Citizens United, he said.

While Clinton’s response mirrored what she told the Spanish-language network last year, Sanders’s was a definite shift from recent remarks:

For Sanders, the stance was a departure from comments he made in Las Vegas in November as he ramped up his Hispanic outreach when he said “passing a legislative solution to our broken immigration system will be a top priority” and pledging to enact executive actions on immigration that go farther than Obama has “in the first 100 days of my administration.”

Clinton’s comments were consistent with what she told Telemundo in October when she resisted their push for her to commit to immigration as a priority in the first 100 days of her administration.

Right now, as New Hampshire’s contest looms ahead, both candidates are embroiled in a fierce primary battle following Clinton’s razor-thin victory in Iowa. And while both states have a steadily growing Latino population, it pales in comparison to the more diverse populations in other primary states ahead, like Nevada.

That may be why both Sanders and Clinton have neglected to prioritize immigration during these debates and recent speeches.

This notion that there are “Latino states” and “non-Latino states” should be rejected. While they may not be as big as populations in California, Texas, and Nevada, there are Latinos and immigrant families in New Hampshire who deserve to hear more answers about what the candidates can do for their families.

Even in Iowa — as small as the Latino population may be in comparison to the white population — we saw the difference the record-breaking Latino turnout made for the caucuses.

In 2016, candidates can’t silo issues. They need to talk about immigration reform wherever they go, because, frankly, the small soundbites scattered throughout debates about comprehensive immigration reform just aren’t enough.

The Republican candidates have gotten uglier and uglier as the campaign has unfolded – but, that alone won’t be enough to motivate voters. Democrats need to lean in. And, respectfully, the next President must make reform a priority at the beginning of the term, instead of waiting as the Obama Administration did.


Immigration At the Democratic Debate