Brown And Black Forum: Immigration Reform And The Economy

Addressing immigration reform and the widening wealth gap.

With the Iowa caucuses just weeks away, eight of the remaining Democratic presidential candidates gathered in Des Moines on Monday (Jan. 20) to share their plans to tackle topics including healthcare and social equity at the Brown & Black Forum, hosted by VICE News and Cashmere Originals.

Polls show wage inequality, overall economic injustice, and the current administration's stance on immigration as bedrock issues driving the Black and LatinX vote. 

In response, Demoratic hopefuls doubled down on popular talking points like increasing minimum wage and creating a path to citizenship.

RELATED: Brown & Black Presidential Forum Gives Voice To Gen Z And Millennials

Participating in the forum was former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, former Vice President Joe Biden, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

The Forum was moderated by VICE News correspondents Antonia Hylton, Alzo Slade, Paola Ramos, Dexter Thomas, David Noriega, Krishna Andavolu, and Roberto Ferdman.

Here’s what the candidates had to say about immigration and the economy at the Brown and Black Forum.

RELATED: Here’s How The Black Economic Alliance Is Holding Presidential Candidates Accountable

Michael Bennet

Michael Bennet, the senator from Colorado, was the first to take the stage in Des Moines. 

Bennet quickly acknowledged that his campaign has a name recognition problem after moderator Alzo Slade pointed out that “New York Magazine described you as ‘the bland white guy you’ve never heard of.’" 

“I’m not as well-known as other candidates, but I do think the ideas I’m advancing in this campaign are the ones that will make the biggest difference for kids living in poverty in this country.”

Bennet’s economic plan includes an increase to the child tax credit, paid family leave, earned income tax credit, and raising the minimum wage for business that can afford to do so.

When presented with the question on if businesses that can’t afford a living wage should still be in business, Bennet maintained, “A wage is better than NO wage,” an opinion that is in stark contrast to candidates like Sanders and Warren, who are in support of a $15 federal minimum wage.

Joe Biden 

Upon taking the stage in Des Moines, former Vice President Joe Biden faced criticism for his ties to the Obama administration’s record-high levels of deportations.

Biden, however, stopped short of directly criticizing the previous administration. 

“The way we did when we reformed the system with the DACA I would not retain them behind bars,” Biden said in reference to the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which would have provided a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. 

Biden instead supports implementing a system where rather than incarcerating those who cross the border, they would instead be tracked with an ankle bracelet. 

In contrast to some of his opponents, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, Biden's plan stops short on the more progressive policies like decriminalizing the act of crossing the border and placing a temporary moratorium on deportations. In addition to backing a $15 federal minimum wage, Biden wants to heavily back unions and crack down on corporate entities that attempt to stymie collective bargaining.

Pete Buttigieg 

Moderators pressed the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg on his struggle to resonate with minority voters.  

Buttigieg used his screen time in front of a diverse audience to reaffirm his plan to address inequality and what he describes as the Trump administration’s “discriminatory policies” toward Latinos. 

Buttigieg’s plan includes creating a path to citizenship for immigrants who are living, working and paying taxes, putting an end to family separation, and updating the immigration laws to reflect the economic and humanitarian needs of today. 

Not only does Buttigieg support raising the federal minimum wage to $15, he also backed the  Paycheck Fairness Act. The legislation, which was passed by the House last year, would, “ban employers from using an employee’s salary history to determine wages, ensure that workers have the right to discuss wages without retaliation and require employers to justify any pay discrepancies."

Bernie Sanders

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders boldy responded when moderators referred to his agenda as “radical. 

“Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour: Is that radical? Canceling all student loan debt. Radical? Immigration reform: Radical?”  Sanders asked the audience who responded with a resounding, “NO!”

On his website, Sanders’ immigration proposal includes using executive action to protect unauthorized immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for more than five years from deportation. 

Sanders also plans to crack down on tax breaks for large corporations removing tax loopholes and breaks that only benefit the rich and raising the tax rates for the top 0.2% of wealthy Americans.

Andrew Yang

“I’m a very data driven guy, but I’m 100% confident that putting $40 billion into the hands of Black and Brown communities every month is going to be a major positive,” said entrepreneur Andrew Yang when questioned about how his universal basic income can close the wealth gap. 

Yang plans to give every American adult $1,000 a month in universal basic income as a way to offset job loss from automation. The first-time presidential candidate proposes paying for the monthly distributions, in large part, by implementing a new 10 percent value-added tax on goods and services. 

Amy Klobuchar

“I don’t pretend to know what it feels like to be followed around in the store or to face poverty like 30 percent of Black children do, but what I do know is that it’s not right," said Senator Amy Klobuchar in response to the current administration's harmful rhetoric directed at minority communities. 

The senator from Minnesota outlines on her website plans to reform ICE and reexamine the policies in place as they pertain to detainments at the borders. 

The Brown & Black Forum kept candidates on a strict time limit, so not every candidate had the chance to address every issue. Read on to learn where some of the other presidential hopefuls stand on immigration and economic policy.


Previously, Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed plans which include raising the federal minimum wage to $15 and streamlining the process for refugees seeking asylum. 

Warren’s plan of "economic patriotism" would result in the government prioritizing the interests of middle-class people over those of corporations. This is aimed directly at companies like Amazon, which receives major tax incentives from the government. 

When it comes to immigration, Warren is calling to expand the program for DREAMers and their families, as well as those with Temporary Protected Status. If elected, Warren plans to admit more refugees, decriminalize crossing the border without papers.  

While bold, Warren’s plan would face great difficulty in Congress, particularly if Republicans maintain control of the Senate.

Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental activist from California, has outlined an immigration proposal seeking to decriminalize illegal border crossings and work with Congress to approve a pathway to citizenship for millions of people in the U.S. illegally.

Like Sanders, Steyer is promising to use executive action to reinstate Obama administration protections for people brought to the country illegally as children. He’d do the same to nullify President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and end the separation of immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Steyer’s economic agenda highlights people over profits and aims to address what Steyer calls the "undue influence" of corporate power on the U.S. economy. Like many of his White House rivals, his plan also calls for a $15 minimum wage.

John Delaney 

The former three-term Maryland congressman supports comprehensive immigration reform. As a congressman, he cosponsored the DREAM Act in 2017, which would have provided a path to citizenship for so-called "dreamers," young undocumented immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. 

In the past he has referred to the Trump Administration’s decision to end DACA as "cruel, heartless and mean-spirited.”

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