At a forum on Latino issues, eight Democratic candidates for president on Friday attacked Trump administration policies that led to the separation of families and detention of children.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials hosted the Miami forum for candidates including U.S. senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to attack the government's crackdown on illegal immigration, a day after President Donald Trump claimed his support among Latino voters has "gone way up," without offering supporting evidence.
Sanders promised to "use all of the powers of the presidency" to "undo the fear and the damage" he says Trump has caused, referring also to Trump's pledge earlier this week that he would begin deporting millions of immigrants who are in the country illegally.
"Let us not forget that this administration is ripping children from the arms of their mothers," Sanders said. "Some of those children have died."
Government facilities at the border are overcrowded with migrants, mostly from Central America, who are crossing from Mexico to request asylum. Five children have died since late last year after being detained by Customs and Border Protection.
Beto O'Rourke, who represented El Paso, Texas in the U.S. House from 2013 to 2019, said Friday that he would reunite every single family that had been separated and end the detention of children at the border by issuing executive orders. Lawyers who interviewed 60 children at a Border Patrol facility near El Paso told The Associated Press that three minors were told by an agent to take care of a 2-year-old boy who was alone and had wet his pants lacking a diaper.
"We will no longer put children in cages," O'Rourke said.
The "zero tolerance" policy implemented last year caused mass outrage after it led to the separation of children from their parents because they were being criminally prosecuted for crossing the border illegally.
The meeting of presidential hopefuls takes place five days before the first Democratic debate, also in Miami next week.
Florida is a decisive state. Trump launched his reelection campaign in Orlando earlier this week revisiting the hardline immigration themes of 2015 and 2016 by warning about deporting millions. At an interview with the Spanish-language network Telemundo that aired Thursday, Trump said Hispanics also want toughness at the border, saying his support in the group has risen. The White House did not provide supporting polls for Trump's claim, and the most recent AP-NORC poll conducted in mid-June shows him with 26% support among Hispanics.
Immigration may be one of the most pressing problems for Hispanics in other states, but Florida's large number of Cuban-Americans — a strong voting bloc— have applauded Trump's decision to impose new restrictions on travel and levy sanctions against Venezuela's socialist government. Trump will be launching a new effort to appeal to Latino voters next week in Miami.
Warren was questioned Friday for lacking a plan to help immigrants, but the senator said her promise to ban private companies from running prisons and detention centers tackles "systematic problems" that affect that population. The Massachusetts senator said more than two thirds of the people who are currently detained for their immigration status are held in for-profit detention facilities.
"You've just created a group that makes its money by seeing more people locked up," she said. "I say get the profits out of locking people up."