Bernie Sanders talks immigration, economic justice at San Ysidro rally

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks as he holds an immigration rally at San Ysidro High School on Friday, December 20, 2019 in San Diego, California.
(Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The event marks the Vermont Senator’s fourth trip to San Diego County since launching his presidential campaign this year


A day after his latest presidential debate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders Friday night talked immigrant rights and economic justice to a raucous and diverse crowd in San Ysidro.

Sanders, a self-identified Democratic socialist, focused his 40-minute speech at San Ysidro High School on such goals as creating a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in this country, restoring DACA protections for undocumented people who came to this country as children, stopping federal agents from separating children from parents and reversing other Trump administration policies he criticized as racist.

“What demagogues do is they pick a group of people … and kind of foment hatred against that group,” Sanders said. “Together we are going to move this country in a very different direction.

“We have some 11 million people, the overwhelming majority of whom are honest, hardworking people who are making a huge contribution to the American economy … and who came to this country to escape violence and to search for a better life for themselves and their children. This is not criminal.”

He told the crowd of more than 1,900 that the country also needs to increase the federal minimum wage to $15, cancel all student debt, provide universal health care, close tax loopholes for billionaires and corporations, and improve the quality of jobs,

“We believe in an economy that works for all of us,” he said. “That means not only jobs, but jobs that pay a living wage.”

Sanders said his father immigrated to the U.S. from his native Poland, not speaking a word of English, fleeing poverty and a rise in anti-Semitism.

“I think I understand that if America stands for anything, it stands for being a welcoming country,“ he said. “A country that welcomes and understands the enormous progress immigrants have brought to our country.”

The rally was similar to others the progressive icon held in San Diego this year; it drew energized people of a variety of ages and ethnicities, including many who arrived hours early.

Crystal Swift, 29, of Point Loma, said Sanders’ health care policies matter most to her.

“When I grew up, my parents didn’t have health insurance — my parents couldn’t afford it,” she said. “I grew up that way, and I don’t want other other kids to grow up that way.”

Supporters watch as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks as he holds an immigration rally at San Ysidro High School on Friday, December 20, 2019 in San Diego, California.
(Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Swift, a Navy operations specialist, said she knew many Sanders supporters in the Navy.

“A lot of people I work with in my age group and especially in my office, we’re all Bernie supporters,” she said. “Our leadership, I guess the older generation, are the ones that lean more Republican.”

Another supporter, Genevieve De Los Santos, 16, said Sanders’ support for free or low-cost college and his consistent messages drew her to the candidate.

“You see all these articles about him from the past, before he was even in the public eye, (and) he was supporting some of the same causes he’s still talking about,” she said.

The San Ysidro High junior said Friday’s was her first political rally and that Sanders coming to San Ysidro was special.

“Our school has always been ... the one that people (weren’t) really proud of,” she said,”like, they didn’t want to say they were from San Ysidro because we just always had like a negative reputation because of the high Latino and minority population. But ... to have somebody like Bernie Sanders coming here, it’s like they’re giving us a little bit more credibility.”

Unlike the senator’s last rally in San Diego County, his visit Friday drew little protest.

Brian Smith, of San Diego, stood alone outside the rally entrance with two homemade protest signs. One sign read: “Trump’s not advertising hate. You are.”

The other decried DACA and said “blame the parents.”

Smith said he was motivated to come out not to protest Sanders, but to support President Donald Trump. He said not supporting Trump’s border wall is akin to leaving one’s door open at night while asleep.

“I’m usually not this politically active by any means. I’ve never made signs of my life,” Smith said.

Since California moved its primary to an earlier date, March 3, a number of Democratic presidential hopefuls are spending more time here, courting votes from the most delegate-rich state.

Sanders has hosted more events in San Diego County than any other candidate. He held two rallies here earlier this year — one in downtown San Diego in March and another in Vista in August — and this summer he participated in the UnidosUS Conference alongside four other presidential candidates at the convention center in downtown San Diego.

Sanders is a favorite among San Diego County residents when it comes to fundraising.

In the first six months of the year, San Diego County residents gave nearly $1.3 million to 22 presidential candidates. Trump’s campaign received the most, $353,569, while South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg gained $222,457, and Sanders’ pocketed $151,541, according to federal election data.

As the Democratic field has thinned to 15, Sanders is vying with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and billionaire Democratic activist Tom Steyer.