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What Democrats said about immigration and reparations at the latest debate

Ronald J. Hansen
Arizona Republic

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on Thursday called for expedited citizenship for immigrant children separated from their families and for moves to begin reparations for both them and descendants of slavery.

Immigration was a topic of the sixth Democratic debate in Los Angeles, coming up for the first time since September, and some of the candidates ratcheted up the rhetorical stakes of the issue in their answers.

Buttigieg, the South Bend, Indiana, mayor, said he was committed to financial reparations to children separated from their families.

"Yes, and they should have a fast track to citizenship because what the United States did under this president to them was wrong. We have a moral obligation to make right what was broken."

Asked whether the same logic applied to reparations to the descendants of slaves, Buttigieg said it did.

He supports a bill to create a commission to study the issue.

"But we shouldn't wait for that commission to do its work to do things that are reparative," Buttigieg said. "Remember, we're not talking about a gift to anybody. We're talking about mending what was broken. We're talking about the generational theft of the wealth of generations of African Americans. Just crossing out a racist policy and replacing it with a neutral one is not enough to deliver equality."

He said the value of dollars taken away compound just as dollars invested grow over time.

Democratic presidential hopeful Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg (L) speaks to billionaire and philanthropist Tom Steyer (R) during a break in the sixth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign.

Former Vice President Joe Biden was asked about the reparations issue, but instead returned to immigration.

He said that walking away from immigrant children is "stupid and immoral" and "bad for America."

"They are the future of America, and we should invest in them," he said. "Everybody will benefit from them. Every single American, and you should get used to it."

California billionaire businessman Tom Steyer called President Donald Trump's immigration agenda the product of racist views.

"I think it's important to note that this president is not against immigration; he's against immigration by nonwhite people," Steyer said.

"He's been vilifying nonwhite people. He's been trying to inflame his base and scare them that, if in fact, white people lose control of this country, that they're going to lose control of their lives. ... This is a racial argument by a racist president who's trying to divide us." 

Businessman Andrew Yang said he would move quickly as president to seek legislation to protect those brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

"Of course I would. I'm the son of immigrants myself, and I know that 'dreamers' are essentially Americans in everything but this legal classification," he said. "The fact is that nearly half of Fortune 500 companies were started by an immigrant or children of immigrants. Immigrants make our country stronger and more dynamic."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, reiterated that he would immediately restore the legal status of 1.8 million dreamers and end the family-separation policy the Trump administration has employed at the border.

He also would introduce bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reforms that include a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. 

"Trump thinks — mistakenly — that he is going to win re-election by dividing us up," Sanders said. "We are going to win this election by bringing our people together."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, said Trump has used immigrants as "political pawns" and cited her history of working on immigration reforms, beginning with the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy as a sign of her seriousness on the issue.

"I will take this experience and I will get this done because immigrants don't diminish America; they are America," she said.

Reach the reporter Ronald J. Hansen at ronald.hansen@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4493. Follow him on Twitter: @ronaldjhansen.

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