Following the last Democratic primary debate of 2019, South Bend, Indiana Mayor and presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg made his way to Las Vegas for another town hall with members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
The conversation — moderated by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen and One APIA Nevada board chair Evan Louie on Friday, December 20 — was held at the Service Employees International Union Local 1107 office with about 50 attendees representing various local AAPI organizations.
It marked the second event Buttigieg had with the community following an AAPI Democratic Caucus dinner last May.
“I’m running not only to be the nominee who can defeat Donald Trump, but to be the president for the day after,” Buttigieg declared in his remarks.
With some criticism in recent months about the campaign’s minority outreach, Buttigieg doubled down on his message that he seeks to “build a culture of belonging” and engage with communities like the AAPIs to hear their stories and concerns.
Buttigieg also held roundtables with local black and Latino community leaders during his trip last week.
Given that Nevada is a key swing state, presidential candidates have made it a point to campaign in here and meet with AAPIs, who are considered one of the fastest-growing minority groups and make up 10% of the state’s electorate. Filipinos alone make up half of the state’s AAPI electorate at 162,000. Previous election cycle results have shown how AAPIs have become a crucial voting bloc for races down the ballot.
“That means making sure we reach out and hear the unique concerns of AAPI Nevadas and Americans, especially knowing that some of the issues we talk about, from equity and health to economic empowerment to immigration reform disproportionately impact AAPI communities,” Buttigieg told the Asian Journal. “So we want to make sure I’m communicating what it is that we’re planning to do and hearing the stories of those directly affected by these issues.”
In the roughly one-hour discussion, the mayor touched upon topics from college affordability and student debt forgiveness to the importance of disaggregated data to easing racial and economic tension that is “tearing our country apart.”
Similar to other Democratic presidential candidates in the race, Buttigieg proposes public college tuition for most Americans, but his plan places the threshold of families earning $100,000 or less. Further, he talked about the debt burden that prevents graduates, especially first-generation and minorities, from becoming entrepreneurs.
“If you’re a Pell Grant eligible student and you go on to start a small business and create jobs, then we will have debt forgiveness to make it easier for you to succeed and build up those minority-owned businesses that are creating so much opportunity,” the mayor said.
He also called for an overhaul of the immigration system that included addressing several of President Donald Trump’s policies and revisiting per-country caps, just two days before he unveiled his full immigration plan in Iowa.
As green card backlogs increase further — especially with applicants from the Philippines being the third top country with the longest wait to come to the U.S. — Buttigieg suggested that per-country caps be reset every two years as the current ones “have no basis in modern reality.”
“They create enormous backlogs and make it more difficult to reunify families. What I would establish is a two-year cycle of renewing and resetting the caps and the relationship between workforce needs and immigration levels instead of having it cooked into a law so permanently that you would have to go back to Congress in order to fix it, which as we’ve learned, is really something you only get to do once in a generation,” he said.
In his interview with the Asian Journal following the town hall, Buttigieg also voiced support for preserving and extending the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nationals of certain countries.
“But we also need a pathway to citizenship so that kids are not in that vulnerable position to begin with. That’s true, not only for DREAMers, but also for all of the 11 million undocumented residents now in America,” he told the Asian Journal. “We’re always going to have these vulnerabilities until we clear up people’s status and it’s why we need a full reform that creates that path to citizenship.”
Ahead of the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 22, 2020, the state will continue being a campaign stop for the various Democratic contenders. A debate will also be held in Las Vegas on Feb. 19.
In the meantime, Buttigieg said one of the hurdles is getting voters energized to participate in the process leading up to November 2020.
“We’ve got to fight the apathy. There are a lot of cynical politicians in Washington now who are counting on us to feel apathetic, to feel helpless. We have the opportunity to stand up and to do things differently. Those who would be affected by better policy around health, wages, you name it, have an opportunity now to make their power known,” Buttigieg said. “There are more of us who believe in these reforms than there are those who would stop them. But it only works if everybody mobilizes and that starts at the election.”