In an appeal to South Florida’s immigrant community, Joe Biden met with more than 100 Latino voters in Miami on Sunday, promising to end President Donald Trump’s restrictive immigration policies and mend the U.S.’s credibility around the world.
“We need to restore the soul of America. All of you have come from places where it took courage to leave — optimism, determination, resilience. That’s who we are,” the democratic presidential candidate said at the Ball & Chain bar and club in Little Havana.
The campaign stop was Biden's first public campaign event in Miami since announcing his presidency in April.
And it highlighted Biden’s depth of support among Florida Democratic leaders. The event brought together ordinary Latin voters around the Miami area along with notable elected officials, including U.S. Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala, as well as former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and former U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. Biden later held a fundraiser in Miami's Design District.
After appearing to loud chants of “Let’s Go Joe" at the Little Havana event, Biden immediately criticized the Trump administration for diminishing the country’s global standing. He said four more years with Trump in the White House could cause irreparable harm to the U.S.
Although the Democratic primary in Florida is not until March 2020, Biden’s stop demonstrated the importance of winning the Latino vote in South Florida. Trump has already made frequent visits to South Florida to deliver addresses on Cuba and Venezuela. Biden’s main focus throughout his nearly half-hour speech was immigration and living conditions in Central America.
He recalled when Trump called Mexicans “rapists” and said the U.S. should accept more immigrants. He added that he understands that immigrants are fleeing poverty and corruption in their home countries. He received an especially loud applause when he said his administration would grant Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans fleeing political and economic turmoil in their home country.
“We can take a hell of a lot more. We’re 330 million people,” referring to the U.S. population and arguing that American citizens would not feel the effects of more immigrants in the country.
Biden also stressed that the U.S. must become a leader again in the Western Hemisphere. He noted his experience working with Latin American countries during the Obama administration and said he would prioritize improving ties and living conditions throughout the region. He specifically targeted Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro for not doing more to prevent wildfires in the Amazon.
“We’re the only nation that can pull the Americas together. There is no reason why there cannot be a prosperous, democratic and open society from northern Canada all the way down to the tip of Argentina and Chile,” Biden said.
Attendees at the event expressed mixed opinions of Biden’s speech and candidacy.
Evelyn Perez-Verdia, who is Colombian-American, said Biden’s message was important because “in Florida, Latin American policy is domestic politics.” He “knows what he’s talking about,” she said.
Silvia Wilhelm, who is Cuban, added that Biden was compassionate and understands the immigration issue.
The immigrants here “all came looking for the American dream,” Wilhelm said. “And this is exactly what we hope the President of the United States understands. We didn’t come here because we wanted to leave our countries. Nobody wants to leave their country. We came here because we had to.”
But Manny Orozco, who is of Colombian heritage, was not impressed. He appreciated Biden’s desire to improve conditions in Central American countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. But he hoped the candidate would also discuss issues that are affecting South Florida’s Latin American community.
“There’s an affordability crisis, there’s a climate crisis, there’s a healthcare crisis,” Orozco said. “For him not to really touch on those things, it was a little disappointing.”
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Manny Orozco is of Colombian heritage, not Cuban heritage. We regret the error.