Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg meets with leaders of Latino community

6 mins read

By MINDY LUCAS

Democratic Presidential candidate and Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg made a campaign stop in the Lowcountry on Tuesday, Dec. 3, for a Latino Community Roundtable.

The invitation-only event was held at Las Palmas Bar & Grill in Okatie and attended by various members of the Latino community including business owners, lawyers, publishers, healthcare workers, former members of the military and recipients of DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The visit was one of a number of campaign stops on a scheduled tour of the South, following criticism that the South Bend, Ind.mayor needs to do more to win over minorities if he expects to win the presidency.

The campaign also just spent $2 million on ads in the Palmetto State, according to The (Columbia) State newspaper, ostensibly as part of the effort to reach these voters.

Over the course of about 30 minutes, the group raised such issues as immigration reform, easing the pathway to citizenship and defeating President Trump in 2020.

Eric Esquivel publisher of La Isla Magazine, pointed out that South Carolina does not currently offer state licensure to DACA recipients for many occupations including nurses, dental hygienists or social workers among others, even though most other states do. (A bill that would change this is currently moving through the S.C. legislature.)

Blocking DACA recipients from receiving state licensing is impacting the local economy, Esquivel said, adding that bilingual nurses and other healthcare workers are in high demand in the Lowcountry.

“We’re graduating nurses with DACA, and they cannot get a nursing license in the state of South Carolina,” he said, then added that the state of Florida, which does issue licensure, is “happy to take them.”

Buttigieg fielded these and other questions by talking about his own track record as the mayor of South Bend, where he is now in his second term. The city, for example, worked with a local nonprofit Latino advocacy group to create an ID card that would help undocumented immigrants conduct basic transactions such as picking up children from daycare or paperwork at the city, he said.

He went on to say that by not solving the DACA and immigration issue, it is weakening America.

“Not only is it harming everyone who is in the shadows in the system, but it’s also, in my view, become a national security vulnerability for the entire country,” he said. “In other words, as long as it’s easy to divide Americans over this issue, then we’re a weaker nation as a whole.”

When asked about combating racism in America and President Trump’s attitudes toward immigrants, women or minorities, Buttigieg said that policy changes and having a president who set the tone was the way to address it.

“Part of the function of the presidency is to set a tone, a moral tone,” he said. “… It’s how do we have a president who establishes a tone of that sense of belonging that I’m talking about, who in symbolic as well as concrete ways, sends out that message that racism is unacceptable in the United States.”

Buttigieg also fielded questions from local and national media on such topics as healthcare, immigration reform and what he’s learned about South Carolina on his recent stops.

When people talk about rural America as part of the national political conversation, he said, they don’t usually think of that population as being diverse.

“But here in South Carolina you see how rural issues are also issues that are disproportionately affecting African Americans,” he said, citing a recent stop in Allendale County, South Carolina’s least populated county where about 70% of its residents are black. No presidential candidate has visited the county in more than a decade, Buttigieg pointed out.

“I think that shows the work that needs to be done to really demonstrate that they will not be forgotten, and that there is a way to make sure that government is more responsive to their needs,” he said.

Asked what he thought of Buttigieg after the roundtable discussion, Charleston journalist Fernando Soto, said he felt the mayor’s visit, while brief, was “a great first step.”

“No other candidate has really paid much attention to the Latino population in South Carolina, or really in the deep South, he said.

Soto was also pleased that Buttigieg, when asked, had a multi-phase plan for working to ensure greater protections for DACA recipients and easing the pathway to citizenship for immigrants.

“It was comforting to hear that, OK, he has thought about this, and it’s not just a promise based on nothing,” he said.

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