DNC Chair Perez preps audience pre-debate in case candidates raise their hands for open borders again

Tom Perez kicked off the first night of the second round of 2020 Democratic debates with much fanfare for his party and what they stand for.

The chairman of the Democratic National Committee spent a major portion of his opening speech yelling into the microphone, passionately slamming President Trump and his policies while touting promises by Democrats including, at one point, securing the U.S. border.

(Video: CNN)

Perez made the unlikely declaration that Democrats care about securing the border during one portion of the speech in which he said, “Democrats have your back on the issues that matter most, while this President has had a knife in your back.”

Speaking on the issue of immigration, Perez declared, “We believe we can be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.”

“We can secure our borders,” he said to applause.

But despite the pre-debate pep talk, the Democrats in the night’s lineup did not seem to have gotten the memo as they very soon showed their flip-flopping positions on the border security issue. Despite warnings from even former Obama officials that their radical stands on decriminalizing border crossings could lead to potential general election losses, the candidates raised their hands in favor during the first round of debates last month.

Tuesday night’s contenders proved Perez’s opening statement about Democrats’ wish to secure America’s borders was just talk.

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg did an about-face on his earlier position and asserted that illegal border crossings will still be illegal under his administration.

“When I am president, illegally crossing the border will still be illegal. We can argue over the finer points of which parts of this ought to be handled by civil law and which parts ought to be handled by criminal law, but we’ve got a crisis on our hands, and it’s not just a crisis of immigration. It’s a crisis of cruelty and incompetence that has created a humanitarian disaster on our southern border,” Buttigieg said, citing examples of immigration reform.

“We know that border security can be part of that package, and we can be a nation of laws. The problem is we haven’t had the will to get it done in Washington, and now we have a president who could fix it in a month, because there is that bipartisan agreement, but he needs it to be a crisis rather than an achievement. That will end on my watch,” he added.

CNN moderator Dana Bash tried to clarify his remarks, reminding him that just a few weeks ago he appeared to have a different view.

“But just a point of clarification, you did raise your hand in the last debate. You do want to decriminalize crossing the border illegally,” Bash said.

“So in my view, if fraud is involved, then that’s suitable for the criminal statute. If not, then it should be handled under civil law, but these show of hands are exactly what is wrong with the way that this race is being covered,” he responded.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren also seemed to skirt around a direct answer.

“So the problem is that right now the criminalization statute is what gives Donald Trump the ability to take children away from their parents. It’s what gives him the ability to lock up people at our borders. We need to continue to have border security, and we can do that, but what we can’t do is not live our values. I’ve been down to the border. I have seen the mothers. I have seen the cages of babies,” the Massachusetts Democrat said.

“We must be a country that every day lives our values, and that means we cannot make it a crime when someone comes here,” she added.

“Just to clarify, would you decriminalize Illegal border crossings?” Bash asked.

“The point is not about criminalization. That has given Donald Trump the tool to break families apart,” Warren replied.

Beto O’Rourke disagreed on decriminalizing the border crossings, saying he expected people who come to the U.S. to follow our laws.

“In my administration after we have waived citizenship fees for green card holders, more than 9 million of our fellow Americans, free Dreamers from any fear of deportation and stopped criminally prosecuting families and children for seeking asylum and refuge and for-profit detention in this country, and then assist those countries in Central America so that no family ever has to make that 2,000-mile journey then I expect people who come here follow our laws and we reserve the right to criminally prosecute them if they do not.” O’Rourke said.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper also did nothing to back up Perez’ claim that Democrats want to secure the nation’s border, asserting that decriminalizing is “the whole point.”

“I agree that we need to secure borders. There’s no question about that, and the frustration with what’s going on in Washington is they are kicking the ball back and forth. Secure the borders and make sure whatever law we have doesn’t allow children to be snatched from their parents and put in cages. How hard can that be?” he said.

“Well, and one way to fix it is to decriminalize,” Warren chimed in. “That’s the whole point. What we’re looking for here is a way to take away the tool that Donald Trump used to break up families.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar responded to the question on the issue by claiming that, in order to address border security, “you first of all change the rules.”

“I believe that immigrants don’t diminish America. They are America, and if you want to do something about border security, you first of all change the rules so people can seek asylum in those Northern Triangle countries,” the Minnesota Democrat said.

“Then you pass the bill, and what the bill will do is it’ll greatly reduce the deficit and give us some money for border security and for border processing the cases, and most of all, it will allow for a path to citizenship, because this is not just about the border,” Klobuchar added. “Donald Trump wants to use these people as political pawns. When we have people all over our country that simply want to work and obey the law.”

Frieda Powers

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