Every time an election rolls around, candidates fall all over themselves to proclaim their allegiance to the Latino community. Hillary Clinton is different. I was proud to endorse her because she is the rare loyal candidate who has been fighting for us her entire career.
It goes back to traveling across Texas in 1972 to register Latino voters and to organizing the first-ever White House conference on Hispanic Children and Youth. But it is her time in the U.S. Senate, fighting hard for comprehensive immigration reform that sets her apart from Bernie Sanders. Hillary is the only candidate in this race who has always had our backs.
Six months ago, I did an interview with Larry King where I asked whether Bernie Sanders even liked immigrants or cared about Latinos and our issues. He had been silent on immigration and our other priorities and within a week or two, Sanders was talking about immigration.
He was saying all the right things, but it raised a very important question in my mind: where was Sanders when we really needed him? I have observed Sanders first in the House of Representatives and later in the Senate and I have to say, he was absent from most of the crucial immigration debates. And when he did show up, his record was troubling.
Think about 2005 and 2006, when House Republicans were devising harsher and harsher measures to deport and criminalize immigrants and had passed the Sensenbrenner Bill – the notorious HR 4437 bill – that would have deported everyone and made criminals of families, care-givers, bus drivers and priests who had contact with undocumented immigrants. Where was Sanders? He was mostly silent when we needed champions to defend our community.
And worse, at a few critical moments in 2006, he broke with Democrats and progressives and stood with the hardline anti-immigrant wing of the Republican Party.
The House passed a bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to be detained indefinitely and curtailed avenues to fight deportation in court. The ACLU called the bill “inhumane” and the National Council of La Raza called it a “very ugly, very harmful enforcement-only approach… to criminalize the undocumented population.” And it was a bill to which Representative Bernie Sanders said “aye.”
The same year, House Republicans were playing politics on behalf of their friends in the Minutemen, the vigilantes who set up outposts at the border to hunt immigrants. Republicans even crafted a bill that played right into one of their right-wing conspiracy theories that the U.S. government was somehow guiding immigrants past the Minutemen camps in the desert.
And when Republican Representative Jack Kingston put forward an amendment restricting the Department of Homeland Security from revealing information about groups like the Minutemen – a pure fantasy driven by anti-immigrant pandering to the right-wing -- Representative Sanders took the bait, split with Latinos and progressives in Congress, and voted in favor of this absurd measure. I guess the campaign he was running for Senate in Vermont at the time was more important to him than standing up for decency and common sense when our community was on the line.
It did not get better when he got to the Senate. The next year, while Hillary was working hard to help Ted Kennedy and myself and the broad bipartisan coalition that backed comprehensive immigration reform bill, Senator Sanders voted against it six times. He even went on the Lou Dobbs show on CNN – the number one propaganda broadcast of the anti-immigration movement at the time – to proclaim how immigrants were bad for the American economy and other twisted ideas about immigrants. It was straight from the Republican anti-immigration playbook.
In the moment, at the exact time we needed someone to stand up and defend a vision of how our immigration should work – a moment when immigrants were being demonized and criminalized and scape-goated – Sanders was playing for the wrong team.
The opponents of legal immigration – the most extreme wing of the anti-immigrant movement, took notice. NumbersUSA, the far-right group that wants fewer immigrants in the US, praised Sanders for opposing visas that would allow people to work legally in seasonable jobs at resorts and hotels.
Even Representative Steve King, one of the most staunchly anti-immigrant members of Congress, stated, “I admire Bernie’s passion and I notice that his immigration position is closer to mine than it is [to] some of the presidential candidates on the Republican side.”
Bernie Sanders has seemingly changed his tune to run for President in 2016, but many of us have long memories and remember when we needed people to stand with us. Even now, when he appears to hit all the right notes when he talks about his immigration plan, his proposals are vague and it’s clear from repeated comments that he still views immigrants as a threat to American workers. I do not trust that he is fully in step with progressives, Democrats and the American people who overwhelmingly support a safe, legal and orderly immigration system.
Finally, I would note that some of the immigrant advocates, activists and leaders I deeply admire looked at the choices and have chosen to stand with Hillary as I have. I am proud to be able to stand with Astrid Silva, the eight other Nevadan DREAMers and the rest of Nevada for the Caucuses on the 20th in support of Hillary Clinton as our next President.
Hillary Clinton has waged a fight for Latino families from the start of her career and the beginning of her campaign. She and her staff have been on the ground for months, listening to Latinos in every corner of the Nevada, discussing and defending an ambitious yet achievable plan to keep families together and pass comprehensive immigration reform.
I’ve known and worked with Hillary for years, and I can attest that her passion runs deep when it comes to defending families and immigrants seeking a better life for themselves in the United States. She understands immigrants are part of the very fabric of this nation. And that is why, as our next president, I trust Hillary to lead nearly 12 million people out of the shadows, and into the light.
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