Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015 | 9 p.m.
In front of more than 2,800 people at the Cheyenne Sports Complex in North Las Vegas, a dozen mariachi musicians played galloping harmonies and sang Spanish ballads in the minutes before Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders took the stage.
When he arrived, he offered his thoughts on Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate who is been rebuked by Democrats for calling undocumented immigrants rapists and promising to build a giant wall across the southern border.
“That is old-fashioned racism,” Sanders, the Vermont Senator and Democratic socialist, said. “We will not tolerate it. It is not an American value to talk about rounding up millions of people and simply say that we are going to throw them out of the country. That is xenophobia.”
The Latino voting bloc is up for grabs in the 2016 election and Las Vegas has evolved into a symbolic ground zero for winning those votes.
Sanders, 74, has built a platform designed to capture Latino voters by calling for amnesty for undocumented immigrants. But Sanders has admitted in recent weeks that he needs to improve his name recognition with minority voters — a demographic that Democrat frontrunner Hillary Clinton has spent years wooing.
“We have 11 million undocumented people in the country,” Sanders said. “Ninety-nine percent came here to better their lives and flee poverty and violence. These undocumented workers play an extraordinary important role in our economy. Without these workers it is likely our entire agriculture system would collapse.”
Sanders said he would work to end childhood poverty, protect organized labor, reform campaign finance laws and offer free college. Before he ended his speech, he vowed to end institutional racism and cut the influence of the billionaire class in the nation.
“These guys on Wall Street have more wealth and power that you can possibly imagine. But there is something that we have that they don’t have: the people. When we stand together and we don’t allow them to divide us by whether we were born in America or somewhere else, whether we are black or white, gay or straight, man or women, when we don’t allow them to do that we can accomplish anything.”
The crowd was a mix of supporters that Sanders has already won and those he’s trying to convince. Sanders also wants to reduce income inequality, forgiving student loans and raising taxes on the richest in the U.S. With a populist message, he’s raised more than $60 million from small donors and drawn more than 300,000 to rallies nationwide.
Victor Rivera “dragged” his younger sister to the rally to try and convince her to vote for Bernie.
“The Hispanic community is not homogenous,” Rivera said as he spoke about his Cuban heritage in front of his sister. “But with immigration, income inequality and social justice – Bernie should appeal to a lot of people.”
Jorge Carreno came with his girlfriend Brittany Johnson, a longtime supporter of Sanders who listed off a half dozen reasons why she will support the Democratic candidate.
Carreno, a first generation U.S. xitizen of Mexican heritage, watched his girlfriend list off the reasons and looked up when she finished.
“Before this, I thought I was a Republican. But I don’t know anymore. I like Bernie because he speaks his mind. He says he’s going to do a lot of great things. But it’s different when you get into office.”