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October 20, 2019

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Presidential candidate Julian Castro discusses immigration issues with activists in North Las Vegas

Presidential Candidate Julian Castro Visits Vegas

Yasmina Chavez

Presidential candidate and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro takes a selfie with a member of the Dream Big Nevada immigration activist organization following a lunch discussion at Gorditas El Lagunero in North Las Vegas Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019.

Presidential Candidate Julian Castro Visits Vegas

Presidential candidate and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro meets with members of the Dream Big Nevada immigration activist organization over lunch at Gorditas El Lagunero in North Las Vegas Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Launch slideshow »

Presidential hopeful Julián Castro’s first campaign stop in Nevada was not at a convention center, a town hall or a community center. It was at a food truck.

Castro sampled local cuisine from Gorditas El Lagunero with immigration activists outside a small strip mall at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard North and East Lake Mead Boulevard on Thursday. The former mayor of San Antonio and Obama-era secretary of Housing and Urban Development discussed his vision for immigration reform and protection with members of DREAMer Moms and Dream Big Nevada, two groups that advocate for undocumented immigrants and those with temporary protections such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Castro, a Democrat, ate with roughly a dozen local activists, chatting in English and Spanish about his personal connection to immigration issues and his policy priorities if elected president. As an American of Mexican descent, Castro said he understands the invaluable role of immigrants in U.S. society and the need for “compassion” for undocumented immigrants.

Castro also contrasted his policy positions with those of President Donald Trump, who recently declared issues of border security a national emergency.

“I couldn’t disagree more with the president on the value of immigrants,” Castro said.

When it comes to DACA, which allows certain immigrants who arrived in the country as children to remain temporarily and obtain work permits, Castro said he would prioritize comprehensive immigration reform as president that would include “codifying DACA into law.”

“I believe we should create a path to citizenship and take off the burden of worrying about ... deportation,” he said.

Attendees asked Castro about other issues affecting immigrant communities, including Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which Castro said he would extend for groups such Salvadorans. One attendee asked if he would use executive power as president to demand that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) no longer deport immigrants without a criminal record.

“I agree that that’s a priority,” Castro replied.

Although Castro criticized anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, he added that if elected, he would propose policies to prevent drug trafficking into the United States, without building a border wall. He noted that the drugs confiscated during a fentanyl bust in January, the largest in U.S. history, would not necessarily have been kept out of the country by a wall.

“There’s not a single thing that a wall could’ve done to stop that,” he said. “We can be smarter about border security.”

Astrid Silva, the executive director of Dream Big Nevada, said that in meeting with presidential candidates like Castro, she hopes to communicate the complex and diverse challenges facing immigrant families. Many members of Dream Big Nevada are undocumented themselves.

“There are different stories in the community,” Silva said. “Immigration isn’t just this broad issue you can fix with a magic wand, and that’s what we really want candidates to know.”

Earlier this month, Dream Big Nevada met with presidential hopefuls Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Corey Booker, D-N.J.

“They were amazing, and I think it’s a really good lineup,” Silva said, adding that the group is willing to meet with any Republican politicians if they reach out.

Another member of Dream Big Nevada, Omar Vargas, said that Castro seems to recognize the importance of keeping immigrant families together, the biggest issue for Vargas in the 2020 election.

“I feel a little bit better now that I know he understands what the problems are and that he has some ideas on how to solve it,” Vargas said.

Castro is not the only presidential hopeful to visit Nevada this week. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., will visit Las Vegas Friday, and businessman Mike Bloomberg, who is reportedly considering running, was here Tuesday.