SAN DIEGO — Five candidates seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination spoke Monday in San Diego at the annual conference of the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro took the stage at the San Diego Convention Center individually to deliver remarks and take audience questions curated by UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguia.
The four-day event, which Murguia called the nation's largest conference for Latinos, draws roughly 18,000 people to the convention center annually. Previously known as National Council of La Raza, UnidosUS bills itself as an organization challenging the social, economic and political barriers that affect Latinos at the national and local levels.
Speaking in slots of 10-15 minutes, the presidential hopefuls discussed issues including education, immigration, health care and the economy. They also addressed the growing threat of white nationalism and anti-Latino sentiment in the wake of a pair of mass shootings over the weekend.
The suspect in Saturday's shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, reportedly targeted Mexican American citizens and Mexican nationals. The shooting, which left 22 people dead, is the seventh deadliest in U.S. history and the deadliest terrorist attack on Latino and Hispanic people in U.S. history.
"White nationalism and white supremacy extreme ideology is growing and it's growing all over the world," Biden said. "In Charlottesville ... you saw those people coming out of the woods ... literally carrying torches, their faces contorted, singing and chanting the same anti-Semitic bile that was chanted in Germany in the (1930s)."
All five candidates argued that President Donald Trump's rhetoric is antithetical to American democracy and the idea that the U.S. should be a safe haven for immigrants and refugees. Such arguments have escalated, particularly from presidential candidates, since the latest shooting rampages in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, the latter leaving nine dead.
"The attack two days ago was an attack on the Latino community," Castro said of the El Paso shooting. "It was an attack on immigrants. It was an attack on Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. And that is no accident. That is due, in part, to the climate that this president has set of division, of otherness."
Several candidates spoke of their families immigrating to the U.S. and the ways in which immigrants strengthen local communities and the country as a whole.
Sanders and Klobuchar also called on Sen. Mitch McConnell, the chamber's majority leader, to take up gun control regulations that were passed earlier this year by the House of Representatives.
"I stand before you today on the shoulders of immigrants, as the granddaughter of an iron ore miner, as the daughter of a teacher and a newspaper man, as the first woman elected to the state of Minnesota and a candidate for president of the United States because that is the story of immigrants," Klobuchar said. "That is the story of our shared dreams, that no matter where we come from or who we look like or who we know, that we can succeed in America."
Castro said that although politicians often talk about immigration and the greater Latino community in present terms, many Latino and Hispanic families have lived in certain areas of the country since before the country's founding.
Trump on Monday called the killings "barbaric slaughters" that "are an assault on our communities, an attack on our nation, and a crime against all of humanity."
"America weeps for the fallen," he said. "Our children are entitled to grow up in a just, peaceful and loving society."
Trump said the El Paso shooting suspect "posted a manifesto online consumed by racist hate. In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul."
The president said he has asked the FBI to investigate hate crimes and domestic terrorism and directed the Justice Department to work with local communities and with social media companies "to detect mass shooters before they start."
Trump, who said the nation must end the "glorification of violence in our society," also called for changes to mental health laws "to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment, but when necessary, involuntary confinement."
"Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun," Trump said. "We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms, and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process."
Speaking to reporters in Morristown, New Jersey, on Sunday before boarding Air Force One to return to Washington, Trump said: "Hate has no place in our country. And we're going to take care of it."
He said "a lot of things are in the works, and a lot of good things. And we have done much more than most administrations. And it does -- it's not -- really not talked about very much, but we've done, actually, a lot. But perhaps more has to be done."
When asked what he was going to do about "the gun problem," Trump replied, "We have to get it stopped. This has been going on for years -- for years and years -- in our country. And we have to get it stopped."
While in San Diego, Biden's campaign held a fundraiser in Del Cerro, during which he offered sentiments similar to those he shared during the conference. Biden also noted during the fundraiser that he doesn't see Trump as personally responsible for the shootings, but that he beliees the president has significantly influenced anti-immigrant violence around the country.
The fundraiser was held at the home of Mark Arabo, a businessman, San Diego civic leader and prominent advocate for persecuted Iraqi Christians. The Arabo family immigrated from Iraq to the United States in 1979 in search of a better life and safety.
Former San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and former Rep. Lynn Schenk were among those attending the fundraiser.