On Immigration, Did Democratic Candidates Resonate With Florida Voters?

Jun 30, 2019

In Florida, immigration is a hot-button issue for voters. And during two nights of Democratic debates last week, many of the 20 candidates repeatedly leveled criticism of Trump’s immigration policies and his handling of the crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Some even spoke in Spanish. 

But was that enough to satisfy Florida Democratic voters? 

At least one prominent Florida Republican called out the debate’s moderators and the candidates for failing to bring up the immigration issues that most affect the state.

On Thursday, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted: “How do you host a Presidential debate in #Miami & not ask a single question about #Venezuela #Cuba or #Nicaragua? And none of the candidates looked for an opening to bring it up either.” 

On The Florida Roundup Friday, Sam Cornale, the deputy CEO of the Democratic National Committee, said candidates were simply responding to the immigration agenda as set by President Donald Trump over the past two years.

Trump “ran on building the wall, he ran on addressing the immigration system he said is fundamentally flawed,” Cornale said. “At the end of the day I think each of them had about seven minutes, and there’s only so much you can fit in, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more in the 11 debates to come.” 

Over two nights, Democratic candidates took aim at Trump's immigration crackdown policies and vowed to reverse his policies, if elected. 

They blamed him for the recent border deaths of migrants, including the drowning of a Salvadoran man and his toddler daughter last week in the Rio Grande. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro called for decriminalizing the entry of undocumented immigrants into the U.S. and Sen. Kamala Harris said she would reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program immediately upon being sworn in.

Offstage, several of the candidates visited the Homestead Detention Center — the nation’s largest detention center for unaccompanied immigrant children — to call attention to Trump’s “inhumane” policies. (The politicians were all denied entry.) And many held events like town halls to discuss the issues as well.

Miami Herald immigration reporter Monique O. Madan said Friday on the Florida Roundup that Democrats denied entry to the Homestead facility instead addressed throngs of activists and the press who had gathered outside. 

“Basically they posed outside the detention center and had numerous press conferences to the point of just cameras being everywhere, advocates being everywhere, the streets were shut down. That’s really been the scene outside,” Madan said.

Madan said candidates could have entered the facility had they requested access two weeks in advance, according to 2015 Health and Human Services (HHS) policy. 

“None of candidates that came during these last few days secured their visit,” Madan said.

Juan Peñalosa, the executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, said Democrats are focused on engaging Florida voters across the board, including Latinos and other immigrants in every corner of the state. 

Peñalosa said many Democratic candidates did have conversations about Venezuela, Cuba and other hemispheric issues with voters across Miami during their visits. 

“When you see the discussions that were had at kitchen tables, you saw issues of immigration,” he said. “It didn’t come up on the debate stage but they certainly made their voices heard in town halls, in meetings and kitchen table roundtables.” 

Peñalosa said Democrats are making an “unprecedented early investment” to mobilize Florida voters and “to persuade Hispanic communities and to remind them what’s at stake.”

More than a year out from the 2020 election, the party has over 100 organizers working on the ground across the state, he said. Forty-four percent of them speak Spanish, and 70 percent speak two languages or more. 

“They speak Spanish, they speak Creole, they are from the communities they’re organizing in,” he said. “We have a plan to present our nominee with the best infrastructure possible to win.”