Yesterday, the intersectional civil rights activists at Mijente teamed up with NowThis News and UNLV to hold a town hall with Nevada Latinx voters and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). At this town hall, activists asked Sanders what he’ll do as president and how he’ll act to protect the communities of color in Nevada and across the nation who have endured relentless attacks by the current President Donald Trump.
Sanders not only answered their questions, but he also sought to put to rest concerns (past and present) over the inclusivity and feasibility of his proposed “political revolution”.
“We need details right now. We can’t afford hyperbole. We need to know what’s going on, because people are dying.”
– Kenia Leon, at Friday’s “Defund Hate” protest
Local immigrant rights activists held a “Defund Hate” protest outside the Lloyd George Federal Courthouse Friday night. At this protests, activists across multiple groups asked Congress to hold the Trump administration accountable for the human rights abuses occurring at the border and affecting immigrant communities across the nation. Yet thus far, Congress looks set to pass another round of appropriations bills that may deny Trump all the border wall money he demands, but nonetheless declines to rein in the rest of his deportation regime.
At the federal courthouse Friday night, activist leader Kenia Leon called upon all the Democratic candidates to go beyond the usual consultant-and/or-pollster-approved talking points and provide real solutions for the crisis facing immigrant communities here and now. As she put it, “We need details right now. We can’t afford hyperbole. We need to know what’s going on, because people are dying.”
At UNLV earlier today, Bernie Sanders seemed to indicate that he’s been paying attention and taking notes. As progressive rivals like former HUD Director Julián Castro and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) have already released sweeping immigration reform plans, and as Sanders contends with his own checkered past, a past that’s even included the kind of rhetoric we’d expect from Trump, Sanders reassured the audience today that immigrant communities are welcome in his “political revolution”.
“I will declare war on white supremacy. This is not an abstract issue for me.”
– Bernie Sanders
After responding to moderator and civil rights attorney Stephanie Llanes’ first question on who inspires him by praising musical artists Harry Belafonte and Cardi B for “taking on racism on economic injustice”, Sanders took on the second question of what he will do as president to address the growing crisis of white nationalist fascism. After acknowledging, “We have a president [Trump] who is a racist, who is a sexist, who is a xenophobe,” Sanders insisted, “We need to have a president who understands what we need is a leader who can bring us together.”
Sanders continued, “What brings us together as human beings is far greater than the color of your skin or our country of origin.” Then after recalling his own family’s history as Jewish immigrants seeking a better life in America, Sanders made clear this hits home for him, and he promised, “I will declare war on white supremacy. This is not an abstract issue for me.”
Sanders stated again what he said the day after the El Paso Shooting: “If someone is trying to hunt soneone down because of the color of their skin, that is domestic terrorism.” Sanders then contrasted Trump’s laissez-faire approach to such extremism with his promise to do something about it: “[Counterterrorism] budgets should not be cut. That should be expanded.”
“We are going to end the ICE raids that are terrorizing this country. We are going to order a moratorium on deportations.”
– Bernie Sanders
Once more, Sanders evoked his own past while showing solidarity with the immigrant communities Trump is attacking. “Make it clear that the immigrant community helped us build this country. We should not be apologetic that we are children of immigrants. I certainly am not,” he declared.
A little later, none other than Kimberly Arellano Cruz, someone we met in the days after her mother Adriana Arellano Cruz was arrested and detained by ICE, asked Sanders about Trump’s ICE raids and the 287(g) program that deputizes local police to participate in such raids. Sanders responded, “The shorter answer is yes, I will [end 287(g)]. The longer answer is we must end the terrorization of immigrant communities across the country.”
Sanders then condemned the kind of trauma that the Arellano Cruz children and other children of immigrants targeted by Trump’s deportation regime are experiencing. As Sanders explained, “They are traumatized right now. They are going to school, but they are afraid to be there because they’re afraid of what will happen to their parents. That is unacceptable. We can not have millions of American children living in fear.”
From there, Sanders promised, “We are going to end the ICE raids that are terrorizing this country. We are going to order a moratorium on deportations.” And while he didn’t specifically talk about this at UNLV, Sanders has indicated this year that he wants to “fundamentally restructure” ICE along the lines of what Julián Castro, Elizabeth Warren, and fellow Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) have all endorsed.
“I like it. He said he’s going to stop [the ICE raids]. I’m pretty happy with him doing that. I hope he [follows through].”
– Kimberly Arellano Cruz, on Bernie Sanders answering her question on 287(g) and immigration raids
While Sanders opted not to speak with reporters after his presentation, I did catch up with Kimberly to see how she felt about his answer to her question. So what did Kimberly think of Sanders’ new(-ish) approach to immigration reform? “I like it. He said he’s going to stop [the ICE raids]. I’m pretty happy with him doing that. I hope he [follows through].”
Kimberly Arellano Cruz then challenged all the Democratic candidates to follow their words with real action: “[We need to know] that they’ll actually do something for us, [for] immigrants. They need to actually do something to stop separating families.”
Kimberly’s mom, Adriana Arellano Cruz, was also pleased: “I’m really happy. I hope to god he wins and does this as president. I hope he can stop [the raids], for the good of everyone.” And after explaining her intention all along to regain full legal status, Adriana declared, “All we’re trying to do is work without violating the law.”
After Adriana took us through what happened the day she was taken away from her family, and what’s happened to her family since then, she pleaded with Sanders’ colleagues in Congress to do something about it: “The thing to know is that kids get traumatized because they’re separating families. They need to change the law so kids can grow and not experience the trauma of what happens [when the government rips families apart].”
“We have a moral responsibility to leave this planet intact for future generations […] If anyone tells me we’re spending too much on climate change, you tell me the cost of doing nothing.”
– Bernie Sanders
Despite Republicans, and occasionally some Democrats, concern trolling about expanding the social safety net to immigrants regardless of their status, Sanders insisted he won’t feed the trolls here. “Everyone in this country will have health care, including the undocumented. Evertyone will gave tutition free college, including the undocumented,” Sanders declared. He then added, “Hopefully, the undocumented will no longer be undocumented one day. That is the goal.”
Like he did in North Las Vegas last month and during past visits to Nevada, Sanders spoke about what his vision of “democratic socialism” entails for all American communities. For instance, when he spoke of his “Green New Deal” plan to invest $16 trillion in renewable energy, create new public jobs programs, and carry out a 71% reduction in U.S. carbon emissions by 2030, Sanders flipped the script on the usual “job-killing, high-cost” talking points used against such big public investment programs.
“We have fewer than twelve years to radically transform our energy infrastructure, or else the damage will be irreparable. We have a moral responsibility to leave this planet intact for future generations,” Sanders said. He continued, “If anyone tells me we’re spending too much on climate change, you tell me the cost of doing nothing. We’re creating 20 million new jobs, and those jobs will be taken by working class people who desperately need new jobs.”
Sanders kept with this line of argument while defending his other big ideas on universal tuition-free college, “Medicare for All” single-payer health care, and criminal justice reform. Yet on that latter issue, he echoed Hillary Clinton’s explanation of her vote to authorize war in Iraq in 2002 in explaining his own 1994 vote to pass the Crime Bill that paired progressive priorities like the original Violence Against Women Act and assault weapons ban with “tough on crime” measures that contributed to the prison overcrowding crisis we face now. Still, Sanders told the audience that when it comes to what he wants to do going forward, “Our program invests in people by providing more jobs and education, rather than incarceration.”
“What the political revolution is about is bringing people together around an agenda that works for all of us.”
– Bernie Sanders
As the town hall went on, Sanders answered questions on even more issues, including foreign policy. On that note, he connected the current Central American refugee crisis to U.S. meddling in such nations to protect private companies’ profits at the expense of these societies’ well being. According to Sanders, “What we need is a foreign policy that respects the independence of Latin American countries, including Mexico. We must work together as a hemisphere to solve our problems […] We have to work with Latin American countries to improve workers’ standard of living.”
From there, Sanders brought this message home: “The only way real change take place is when millions of people stand up and fight for justice. What the political revolution is about is bringing people together around an agenda that works for all of us.” And he concluded, “Our job is to improve the lives of the 99%, including Latinos.”
With just over five months to go until Nevada’s “First in the West” Democratic Caucus, it will be up to our state’s Latinx voters and the rest of our state’s voters of color to determine the value and veracity of all these Democratic candidates’ appeals to voters here and across the nation. Not even Nevada may be completely “in the bag” for Democrats in the general election next year (at least, not yet?), but Democratic caucus-goers here will likely give the party a sneak preview of whether the (political) revolution is finally ready to be televised.