At a town hall meeting of about 150 people in western Iowa Thursday, Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke slammed President Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric, comparing the president’s past comments to the language used in Nazi Germany. But immigration advocates say O’Rourke’s words fall flat without concrete policy proposals to back them up.
Referring to the president’s comments in which he “not only describes immigrants as ‘rapists’ and ‘criminals’ but as ‘animals’ and ‘an infestation,’” O’Rourke said, “Now, I might expect someone to describe another human being as ‘an infestation’ in the Third Reich. I would not expect it in the United States of America.”
According to The Washington Post, O’Rourke’s comments were met with applause. But although many immigration activists have expressed support for his comments, they also believe simply calling out the president isn’t enough.
“Beto’s right,” said Erika Andiola, chief of advocacy at RAICES, in a statement to ThinkProgress. “Trump’s language belongs more in the mouth of a Nazi than an American president … But this goes beyond rhetoric: The United States turned back Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany, sending them back to death in concentration camps. We are doing the same today to refugees coming across the southern border.”
O’Rourke, who is from El Paso, Texas, and represented the border city for three terms in the House of Representatives, doesn’t quite have a strong immigration platform beyond theoretical talking points — he’s said the United States should provide a path to citizenship for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, honor asylum laws, and end zero tolerance and family separation policies at the border.
“And if we’re serious about security, let this country of immigrants – republicans, independents and democrats – rewrite our immigration laws in our own image, from our own experiences, and in the best traditions of this great country,” O’Rourke’s official campaign website reads.
That’s an insufficient counter to Trump’s dangerous policies, activists argued. And O’Rourke is not alone. Of the more than a dozen Democratic candidates who’ve officially announced their intention to run, few have a clearly defined immigration platform. The exception appears to be former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, whose People First Immigration Policy calls for decriminalizing border crossings outside of legal ports of entry, eliminating rules that ban undocumented immigrants from re-entering the United States a certain number of years after being deported, and overhauling the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, among other proposals.
Immigration is a matter of urgency, activists say, calling for all candidates to provide real policy solutions to address issues like family separation, the Muslim ban, and asylum.
“We are glad that presidential candidates are using their platform to call out Trump’s racism and race-baiting — but it cannot be a one-time thing,” United We Dream executive director Cristina Jimenez told ThinkProgress in a statement.
“We need candidates who will offer an alternative to Trump’s hateful agenda on immigrants and people of color — with the number one goal of helping people without increasing the deportation force that hurts our community.”
O’Rourke told reporters after the event on Thursday, “If we don’t call out racism, certainly at the highest levels of power, in this position of trust that the president enjoys, then we are going to continue to get its consequences.”
“Silence is complicity in what this administration is doing, so let’s call it out,” he added. “Let’s also define a better future for this country, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do in this campaign.”