Chris Chmielenski's picture


  by  Chris Chmielenski

There's little doubt that the issue of immigration will be on the minds of voters throughout next year's presidential elections. That's why I was somewhat surprised at how little time ABC dedicated to the issue during last night's third Democratic Presidential debate.

Of the nearly three hour debate, ABC allowed for only 12 minutes of discussion on immigration, and only five of the 10 candidates spoke. Maybe the small chunk of time is recognition that there's little difference between the frontrunners -- they favor more immigration and less enforcement.

Univision anchor, and immigration-expansion activist, Jorge Ramos handled the immigration segment, and he didn't hide his own personal views on the issue. He attacked Joe Biden over Pres. Obama's "record number" of deportations. He said Pres. Trump put "kids in cages." And he asked Andrew Yang if he would support doubling the number of green cards issued each year.


Ramos asked Biden if he supported the Obama Administration's removal of more than 3 million illegal aliens. Despite Ramos' insistence, Biden ducked the question by saying he was the Vice President and suggesting there was only so much he could do.

Biden didn't attack Obama's misleading enforcement record, but he also didn't endorse it. Instead, he focused on the Administration's efforts to protect illegal aliens from deportation by creating DACA and support for the Gang of 8 amnesty bill.

The only definitive position that Biden took was to say that he'd allow victims of domestic abuse to claim asylum, contrary to asylum law.

Interestingly, a number of immigration protesters began shouting while Biden was giving his closing remarks. Security had to remove the protestors who were seen wearing T-shirts calling for support of DACA, the abolishment of ICE, and citizenship for all.


Castro, who served as member of Pres. Obama's cabinet, was also asked about Obama's deportation record. Like Biden, he avoided taking a position and instead attacked Biden.

Castro did say that he would push for passage of a "comprehensive immigration reform" bill within his first 100 days, but offered no specifics.


Ramos asked Warren about how she would address visa overstays and the ongoing surge of Central American illegal border crossers.

(While Ramos was far from impartial as debate moderator, I have to give him credit for bringing up such issues as the entry-exit system and the total number of legal immigrants that most debate moderators avoid.)

Warren called for a massive expansion of legal immigration:

"I want to see us expand legal immigration and create a pathway to citizenship for our DREAMers, but also for their grandparents, and for their cousins, for people who have overstayed student visas, and for people who came here to work in the fields."

-- Elizabeth Warren

Warren has doubled-down on her position to expand legal immigration in recent weeks. With so many similarities between her and Bernie Sanders, this could be her way of providing some distance from Sanders who famously called "open borders" a Koch brothers proposal. (Sanders was not asked any immigration questions.)


One of Yang's signature issues is how to deal with an economy that's rapidly becoming more automated at the expense of lower-skilled workers. Because of that, I was hoping that Yang would ultimately stake out a position to reduce legal immigration, and he's made a few vague comments that would suggest so. Last night, he ended all hope.

Ramos asked Yang if he would support the current immigration level of 1 million new green cards each year or double it to 2 million. He said that he "would return the level of legal immigration to the point it was under the Obama-Biden administration."

His response is disturbing. First, it shows that Yang hasn't done his homework on the issue; legal immigration levels haven't changed in close to 30 years. Second, it shows that many Americans may be buying into the narrative that legal immigration is down because of Trump policies, including the travel ban, refugee resettlement, and the public charge rule, but none of those polices, or any other Trump policy, have impacted overall immigration levels.


Ramos asked Buttigieg if people who support Pres. Trump's immigration policies are racist. His response:

"Anyone who supports this is supporting racism."

-- Pete Buttigieg

Just as a reminder, here are Pres. Trump's immigration pillars:

  • grant permanent amnesty to any illegal aliens who qualify for DACA,
  • end chain migration and the visa lottery and shift to a merit-based system, and
  • implement the Secure Fence Act of 2006 that was supported by Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Chuck Schumer.

Buttigieg further said that increasing immigration is "part of my plan for revitalizing the economies of rural America." Buttigieg has made similar statements in the past, but this is the first time he specifically caled for increases in legal immigration.


Like Warren, Ramos asked O'Rourke about the entry-exit system. He offered a vague response and quickly pivoted to his opposition for any barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

O'Rourke also said that he supports extending amnesty to "DREAMers ... and extend that to their parents, their sisters and their brothers."


There's not much difference between the candidates -- again, most favor more immigration and less enforcement. We'll add last night's debate comments to our Presidential grade cards and consider any changes in the ratings and overall grades. You can see those grade cards here:

CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Deputy Director of NumbersUSA

2020 elections

Updated: Sat, Sep 28th 2019 @ 8:10am EDT

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