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Univision Network Democratic Presidential Debate

Interview

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Location: Miami, FL


UNIVISION NETWORK DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

MODERATOR: Before beginning, we want to thank all of you for having accepted coming to this presidential forum. In the name of the millions of Hispanics and Latin Americans who are seeing this, thank you very much.

We're going to start with a question. The first question is for Senator Barack Obama. Why do you consider it important to participate in this presidential forum? Do you consider that participating in a forum run in Spanish and addressed specifically to Hispanic voters is a political risk for you?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, I don't think it's a risk, I think it's an opportunity, because all my life has been devoted to building coalitions between people to get things done. That's what I did as a community organizer when I first moved to Chicago, was working with persons in the African-American community, Latino communities, white communities, who had been dealing with steel plants that had closed. And communities had been devastated, and they came together to set up job-training programs for the unemployed, and after-school programs for youth who were dropping out, and that continued throughout my career.

The fact is, is that the Latino community in the United States not only is the fastest-growing minority group, but it also embodies the best of American aspirations: upward mobility, opportunity, family and community. And my hope is that rather than see the kind of divisive politics that we've been seeing lately coming out of the immigration debate and that we've been seeing in some of the Republican forums that have been taking place, that all of us recognize that we will be stronger as a nation when we include everybody, and particularly the Hispanic community, in the political conversation. (Cheers, applause.)

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MODERATOR: Senator Obama, the same question. At what time would you consider that the mission has been completed or accomplished, so that the troops can come home?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think Dennis will acknowledge that I was a strong opponent of the war, as Dennis was. And I thought at that time that this was a bad idea, that it was going to cost us billions of dollars and thousands of lives and would not make us more safe. And it hasn't made us more safe. And the president now is trying to present an argument that somehow because there has been some impact as a consequence of 30,000 troops in Baghdad, that that has brought about any movement on the political front. At this point, I think everybody is aware there will be no military solution to what's happening in Iraq. The question is, are we going to be able to bring about a political accommodation? I've had a bill in since January that would begin bringing our troops home in a responsible, careful way. And it is my belief that if the president continues on this course, we are going to continue to have the same problems that we've had.

So I'm calling on Republican congressmen and legislators to overturn the president's veto of a timetable. We need to start that process. And has been said earlier, we've got to initiate the kind of diplomacy where we talk to all the parties in the region, both inside Iraq as well as outside of Iraq, to make certain that all the factions recognize it is their interest to stabilize Iraq. And that is going to require a president who is willing to engage in the kind of bold personal diplomacy and talk to all people that I have committed to, as president of the United States. (Applause.)

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MODERATOR: Thank you, Senator.

Now we're going to go to another topic, and we're going to go to the important subject of immigration. We're going to go to Senator Obama. None of the 9/11 terrorists entered the U.S. through the Mexican border. Why build a wall there in the name of national security on the Mexican border and not on the border with Canada? (Cheers, applause.)

Senators -- I would like to mention that Senator Obama, Clinton and Dodd approved and voted in favor of the wall. Now you, Senator Obama.

SEN. OBAMA: Well, I have been a consistent champion of comprehensive immigration reform. And keep in mind that my father came to this country from a small village in Africa because he was looking for opportunity. And so when I see people who are coming across these borders, whether legally or illegally, I know that the motivation is trying to create a better life for their children and their grandchildren.

And that's why in the state legislature I championed efforts to make sure that we could incorporate and bring people into the political process and to have access to the resources that would give them a better life, and the same thing has been my cause since I've been in the United States Senate. So I was one of the leaders, along with several other senators, in passing comprehensive immigration reform the year before last out of the Senate. It failed in the House.

That is going to involve some elements of border security because we've got to make our borders more secure. We can't just have hundreds of thousands of people coming into the country without knowing who they are.

It also means, though, that we have an employer verification system that works, and it means that we provide a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented workers who are already here. And that is something that I have championed, and that is something that I will pass when I am president of the United States; we will begin working on it the first year.

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MODERATOR: The same question, we're going to ask, about immigration to all the candidates. Would you commit during your first year of the presidency, to immigration reform?

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SEN. OBAMA: Well, I have already committed that I would work in my first year to get this done, because I think it is a priority not just for the Latino community, I think it's a priority in terms of getting the United States on a pathway of progress and unity and prosperity over the long term.

Many of the points that have been made, I think, are critical. Making sure that we are investing in our relationship with Mexico so that people in Mexico feel as if they can raise a family and have a good life on the other side of the border is going to be critical; making certain that we have strong border security is important; a pathway to citizenship is something that I've been committed to since I came to the United States Senate.

One other thing, though, that I think has not been mentioned -- and I've been working with my dear friend and colleague Congressman Luis Gutierrez on this -- is we've got to fix a broken immigration system not just for the undocumented but for legal immigrants. Because the backlogs are horrendous, the fees have been increased and doubled and tripled, and as a consequence more and more people are having difficulty just trying to reunify their families even if they're going through the legal pathways, and that puts more pressure on people to go into the illegal system. That is something that we've already got legislation to work on; that is something that we're going to try to pass even before I'm president.

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MODERATOR: Thank you, Senator.

Senator Obama, the same question. What can be done to curb this anti-Hispanic sentiment?

SEN. OBAMA: You know, when Cesar Chavez was engaging in a hunger strike in California, it was at the same time that Martin Luther King was involved in the sanitation strike on behalf of sanitation workers in Memphis. And Dr. King sent a telegram to Mr. Chavez, and he said, our separate struggles are one. Our separate struggles are one.

And I think that that is what's been missing from presidential leadership, is explaining to the American people from all walks of life that our separate struggles are one.

Part of the reason that the fear-mongering that's been taking place has been successful is because there are a lot of American workers who feel that there has been no attention paid to their diminishing situation. They feel like they're losing jobs, they feel like they're losing health care, they feel like they're falling behind and their children won't have a better future.

So a president has to not only speak up forcefully against anti- immigrant sentiment and racist sentiment, but also has to make sure that all workers are being tended to. And that's something I'm committed to doing as president of the United States. (Applause.)

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MODERATOR: Thank you. (Continued (cheers, applause.)

Senator Obama, please respond also. What do you think you could do to curb the Hispanic dropout rate?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, keep in mind this is not just a crisis for the Hispanic community; this is a crisis for the entire country because increasingly the workforce is going to be black and brown, and if those young people are not trained, then this country will not be competitive.

Dennis has mentioned something that's very important. Closing the achievement gap involves making sure that children are prepared the day they come to school, and so working with at-risk parents and poor children to make sure that they're getting their childhood education they need is absolutely critical.

Another thing that's very important in the Latino community in Chicago and all across the country I've seen are crumbling school buildings or children learning in trailers because of overcrowding. So we've got to have a program of school construction all across the nation. After-school programs and summer school programs can make an enormous difference in preventing dropout rates because a lot of times young people after they get out of school have no place to go, have no place to do their homework, don't have much guidance.

And that, I think, can make an enormous difference.

And finally, I think that it is important for us to pass the DREAM Act -- (applause) -- something that my colleague Dick Durbin and I and others have been working on for a very long time, so that those children who may be undocumented because of decisions by their parents still have an opportunity to pursue a higher education. (Applause.)

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MODERATOR: We continue with this debate only in Spanish.

And we're going to the next question, and this is a question for all the candidates. More than 40 million Americans lack health insurance. Among them are 13 million Hispanics, one in every three.

Let's start with Senator Obama. Why is it so difficult to make health care accessible to everyone in the world's richest country?

SEN. OBAMA: It shouldn't be. And it's wrong. You know, my mother died of ovarian cancer when she was 53 years old. And I remember in the last month of her life, she wasn't thinking about how to get well, she wasn't thinking about coming to terms with her own mortality, she was thinking about whether or not insurance was going to cover the medical bills and whether our family would be bankrupt as a consequence. That is morally wrong. It's objectionable.

It's disproportionately affecting the Latino community, but it's affecting people all across the country. And that's why I put forward a comprehensive legislation for universal health care so that all people could get coverage. My attitude is, is that since you are paying my salary as taxpayers, you should have health care that is at least as good as mine. (Cheers, applause.)

And the -- the key to that -- (applause continuing) -- is not only a good plan, but we've also got to overcome the drug company lobbies, the insurance company lobbies, that spent -- (cheers, applause) -- $1 billion over the last 10 years to block reform. As president, I am going to take them on. (Cheers, applause.)

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MODERATOR: Thank you, Senator. (Applause.)

Senator Obama, what's the role of the government of the United States to keep people from losing their homes?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think it is absolutely critical that we step in and work with financial institutions that gave these loans, oftentimes under false pretenses.

And part of the problem of the whole subprime lending market is that we did not have enough regulation of this market, we didn't have adequate disclosure. I meet families all across the country that thought they were getting a low interest mortgage and did not realize that unless their home prices kept on going up they could end up losing their home, and that's a failure of regulation. And that's something that we have to work on prospectively. I've got legislation called the STOP FRAUD Act that basically requires the kinds of disclosure that should have been in there in the first place.

But in the meantime, I think that we've got to work with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and we may need to take a portion of the profits of some of the financial institutions that made billions of dollars on these -- preying on people because they didn't give them the right information. We need to take some of that money and make certain that people have a chance to refinance their home or least get bridge loans --

MODERATOR: Thank you, Senator.

SEN. OBAMA: -- so that they can sell their homes without losing everything that they've had. (Applause.)

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MODERATOR: Thank you.

Senator Obama, the greatest contribution of Hispanics in the United States?

SEN. OBAMA: You know, I think right now the Latino community's greatest contribution is its belief in the future, its belief in this country.

You know, I remember going with Luis Gutierrez to a naturalization service or a workshop in Pilsen/Little Village area in -- in Chicago.

And just seeing families together who are working hard, who are trying to raise families, all with these American flags, trying to make sure that they can lay the groundwork for a better future for their children and their grandchildren, that is an enormous gift, and it's a reminder of what this country has always been about, which is brick by brick, you know, people putting the work in required to make sure that the next generation is able to achieve its dreams. And I think nobody exemplifies that more than the Latino community, and because of the energy that it brings to economy and our democracy I think we can be assured that America's future is going to be bright.

So I thank Univision for setting up this forum, and I thank the Latino community for its faith in America. (Applause.)

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