Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of the 2016 Democratic presidential candidates, accused corporate America of backing immigration reform to import lower wage labor that competes for jobs with U.S. youth, including Latinos.
Sanders, participating in a forum for presidential candidates hosted by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, said there’s a reason why Wall Street and all of corporate America likes immigration reform.
“What I think they are interested in is seeing a process by which we can bring low-wage labor of all levels into this country to depress wages in America and I strongly disagree with that,” said Sanders who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.
With high unemployment rates for high school-age kids in America — 36% for Hispanics — “I frankly do not believe we should be bringing in significant numbers of unskilled workers to compete with those kids. I want to see these kids get jobs,” Sanders said.
He added that he had included $1.5 billion program in the 2013 Senate bill to help young unemployed youth get jobs.
Sanders’ views on immigration have made some immigration activists uncomfortable, particularly the view that immigrants take Americans’ jobs. Coalitions of businesses, activists, law enforcement, agriculture, labor unions and others have been built to advance immigration reform, although Congress has not passed a sweeping immigration bill in more than a decade.
Sanders said his campaign has been making progress in reaching out to Hispanics and said it will be doing more.
He said his message of social justice, of establishing free college tuition, providing health care and his economic agenda that speaks to all working Americans would appeal to Hispanic voters.
As do the other Democratic candidates, Sanders supports a path to citizenship for immigrants not legally in the U.S. However, he said he would make the path faster than stipulated in the 2013 Senate approved immigration bill and would not tie it to border security accomplishments as that legislation does.
He also pointed out that the immigrant who violates border crossing laws or visa rules is not the only violator in the immigration issue.
“There’s such a thing as illegal employers as well. People do not come over the border and get jobs without the full expectation their employers understand exactly what’s going on, pay them under the table and in fact exploit them,” he said. “I find it interesting that my law-and-order friends, politicians, ignore that simple reality.”
Sanders has been seeing his support grow in the polls, shrinking the gap between him and the Democrats’ leader Hillary Clinton. A recent NBC-Marist poll showed him 29 points behind Clinton with 26% of registered voters supporting him.
Earlier this month, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, also seeking the nomination, compared Sanders’ surge to that of Republican Donald Trump, who leads among Republican and dismissed them as products of a “summer of anger and discontent.”
But Sanders said in the forum that people are responding to his message about unequal distribution of wealth, lack of guaranteed health care, family or medical leave and paid sick leave and that the rich are getting richer.
“These are issues that are resonating with the American people who very loudly and clearly are saying enough is enough,” he said. “This economy and political system belong to all of us and not to a handful of billionaires.”
Sanders is the third presidential candidate to participate in a question and answer forum with chamber president Javier Palomarez. O’Malley and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas have also participated. The chamber is currently negotiating a date for Sen. Marco Rubio to participate.
The largely Democrat voting (in presidential elections) Latino electorate and its growth set off a contest for Latino support early in the 2016 presidential race and has lead to several candidate appearances at various Latino gatherings and conference this year, mostly by Democrats.
Sanders called himself a “democratic socialist,” which he said means he has “the courage to look at countries around the world that are doing things better than we are … look and steal the best ideas.” He mentioned such things as free college education, free health care and tax loopholes for major corporations.
On other issues:
- Sanders said his support for investing in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure would be a boost to the Hispanic community, because a significant portion of Hispanic businesses are in construction.
- He called comments by Trump on Mexicans and immigrants “clearly outrageous” and said “it troubles me that a candidate for president would stoop to that level.”
- On choosing not to run as an Independent for the presidency should he not win the Democratic nomination, “I don’t want to be responsible for electing some right-wing Republican to be president of the United States.”
- Sanders said “racism is alive and well in America” and requires significant police department reform that calls for body cameras and taking “a hard look” at use of force by police, minimum sentencing laws and drug laws.
This article first appeared on NBCNews.com.