What do you want to ask the 2020 presidential candidates?
Off Script, a new NPR series about presidential hopefuls, gives voters the chance to sit down with candidates and get answers to their questions.
In this first installment of Off Script with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro, two undecided Texas voters sit down with Julián Castro, former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and ask him about immigration and climate change. (Watch the immigration conversation in the video above, the climate change one below. You can also watch a longer version of the conversation here.)
They met in San Antonio at Mi Tierra, a restaurant with a lot of history for Castro. He is featured in a mural on the wall and it's also where he took his wife on their first date.
Dani Marrero Hi, an immigration rights organizer, is a registered Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Born and raised in border cities in both Mexico and Texas, she supports Castro's opposition to border wall construction, but she wants more clarity on other aspects of his border policies before he gets her vote — like whether he'd come to help escort migrants cross the border to Brownsville, Texas, and how he'd change the asylum-seeking process. Currently, the Trump administration's Migrant Protection Protocol policy requires that asylum-seekers live in Mexico to await a decision on their immigration claims.
"I would immediately issue an executive order ending the Migrant Protection Protocol or 'remain in Mexico' policy," Castro said. "It's a disaster of a policy."
Alston Beinhorn, the second voter, is a retired banker and rancher who also backed Clinton in 2016. Beinhorn says the hot Texas days have gotten much hotter since he started raising livestock in the 1970s, and that is unsustainable for animals and people who work outdoors. But curbing greenhouse gases is a hard sell among ranchers because cattle are a top contributor to the planet's methane problem. Beinhorn wants to know: How would Castro enlist the support of voters to change their minds on climate change when it's not immediately in their economic interest?
Castro last month proposed a plan to combat climate change, which would recommit to the Paris climate accord, set a goal of getting to net-zero carbon emissions in the U.S. by 2045 and offer economic support for farmers to help meet climate goals.
Then he says he can address "this challenge of OK, well, are there sacrifices that we need to make," he says. "I actually believe that we can both do right by our planet and also unleash a clean energy revolution in terms of jobs."
Off Script is edited and produced for broadcast by Ashley Brown and Bridget De Chagas. Eric Marrapodi is Off Script's supervising editor.
A previous Web version of this story incorrectly said a voter invited Julián Castro to join with migrants to cross the border to El Paso, Texas. The voter invited him to cross to Brownsville, Texas.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
So what do undecided voters want to hear directly from presidential candidates? We're hitting the road to find out this fall. And this week, NPR Weekend Edition Sunday host Lulu Garcia-Navarro went to San Antonio for a conversation with former HUD secretary Julian Castro. They met at Mi Tierra, a restaurant that's famous in the city for its history, its food and for a massive mural of famous San Antonians, including Castro.
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: I did read - and I want to see if it's true - that you took your wife on your first date here. Is that true?
JULIAN CASTRO: That is true. That was well before I was on the mural, too.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I was about to say...
CASTRO: I was not that arrogant.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...It's a good way to convince her.
CASTRO: Yeah, that's right.
GREENE: Lulu and Julian Castro sat down with two undecided voters from south Texas for whom immigration policy is top of mind. Alston Beinhorn is a rancher and retired banker. Dani Marrero Hi is an immigration rights organizer. She grew up on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, and she asked Castro about the millions being spent there on security.
DANI MARRERO HI: I want to know where does this conversation of border security - where does the interests and the wants and the needs of border residents come into play?
CASTRO: It's fundamental to the way that we need to move forward. The governor of Texas - they have put an extra $800 million of Texas money and personnel down on the border, and they have been unwilling and/or unable to actually explain how effective they have - that has been because it's probably been ineffective. In terms the Obama administration, I believe that the Obama administration improved over time with DACA and DAPA and that perhaps the most instructive thing that the administration did was, toward the end of the administration, it did this family case management program that essentially was instead of detaining families, allowed families to stay together - and oftentimes, they have relatives who live in the United States - go and stay with their relatives, you know, in a safe, loving home and also make sure that they check in for their court appearances. And it had a phenomenal over 95% success rate of getting people to actually return to their court appearances. I believe that we can do those things. We can also demilitarize our border for the benefit of the people who live down there.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Alston, what are your thoughts on this? I mean, you are a native San Antonian. Obviously, the issue of border security and what happens on the border is pertinent to you, too.
ALSTON BEINHORN: You know, immigration is a very important issue, and I think for all the reasons that we've been talking about and for another reason, which is that we - this country needs more laborers. It's not a binary equation if someone's a citizen or not a citizen to me. There's a third way, which means that, you know, someone could come in on work permits and get a lifestyle that they deserve and want and go back to maybe their home countries every year or two and then come back and work more.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So are you saying you wouldn't necessarily like undocumented immigrants to have a path for citizenship and there should be more of a guest worker program?
BEINHORN: I think that would be great. I mean, I think the path to citizenship is not the only solution. And, yes, they're good people, great contributors to society and to their families and they're - they deserve, you know, a great life. And I don't know how you feel about that.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So how do you feel? Because you're hearing two sides of the Democratic Party here pretty clearly.
CASTRO: No, and I think, right now, we have elements of both of those, right? We have the ability for people to come and work. We have industries, whether it's agriculture or construction or the hospitality industry, that desperately needs workers right now. They have been hurt by this administration and how they've approached immigration. I also believe, though, that, you know, if somebody comes and they give their labor, ultimately they should have a pathway to citizenship. I also believe...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But to Alston's point, there are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants here now. For some people, they see this as just a never-ending flow of immigrants who come here without authorization and that perhaps giving them a pathway to citizenship will encourage them.
CASTRO: I wouldn't say that it's never-ending. In fact, you know, you think about 20 years ago, the majority of the people who were coming across the border were single Mexican men. Today, instead, they're people from these northern triangle countries in Central America. Well, why has that changed? Part of the reason that'd changed is because people could actually find more opportunity in Mexico than they used to. It's still unsafe in different parts of the country, but there is more opportunity there. So if what you - if what somebody is interested in is, what is the best approach so that 144,000 people are not coming to the southern border, I think the best approach is actually exactly where Trump has failed, which is that you need to work with Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala so that people can find safety and opportunity at home instead of having to make that dangerous journey here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you're saying immigration is the answer to that.
CASTRO: Immigration is one part of the answer to that. Yeah.
MARRERO HI: I understand that there are people indeed that want to come to United States to work, but there are hundreds of thousands of others that that is not necessarily why they're coming. And I've been working with a group right now of lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and trans people who are from Cuba and different countries in Central America and because of the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols and Remain in Mexico and every single day, they're terrorized by homophobia, by trans misogyny, by extortion. There is just no way right now for us to confidently look at someone and say, yes, if you follow this process, these steps, then you're going to be able to apply for asylum.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So how would you change the asylum system as it is now?
CASTRO: Well, immediately, I would issue an executive order ending the Migrant Protection Protocol or Remain in Mexico policy. And Dani is right. It's a disaster of a policy. It flies in the face of the way that the United States has honored asylum claims in the past. And I would actually go back to how we used to do this, which was more effective.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Was it more effective, though? Because still people were waiting for years to see a judge in court. I mean, it is an imperfect system.
CASTRO: Well, it was more effective than what we have now, but it does have to be improved. And one of the ways that we can improve it is to improve our immigration court system. But the first thing we got to do is end this Remain in Mexico policy that is subjecting people who are already desperate to beatings and extortion and to, you know, these drug cartels that are kidnapping them and then getting money from their relatives in Central America.
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GREENE: That was former HUD Secretary Julian Castro speaking with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro as we kick off our series Off Script, conversations with the candidates. And you can hear more across NPR today. Also, videos of the conversation are at npr.org/offscript.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE AMERICAN DOLLAR'S "SHADOWS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.