OTTUMWA — Far away from Capitol Hill, where House Democrats unveiled articles of impeachment against Donald Trump Tuesday morning, presidential candidate Julián Castro spoke to a group of Ottumwans.
It was a small crowd, about 25 attendants, ranging in age from high school students to retirees. Campaign staffers and Castro supporters wore buttons that said “Adiós Trump.”
Most of Castro’s talking points were in line with much of what Democrats have advocated for during this campaign. He spoke about impeachment, climate change, making public universities and community colleges tuition-free, as well as health care, criminal justice and immigration reform.
Immigration reform is an issue Castro spoke passionately about.
“I want us to exercise some common sense and some compassion instead of cruelty,” he said to the crowd. “I want to make sure that we’re working with Honduras and El Salvador, Guatemala, so that people can find safety and opportunity at home instead of having to come to the United States and making a dangerous journey to find that safety and opportunity.”
Castro, whose grandmother came to the United States from Mexico at 7 years old, said current legal immigration practices were in need of reform as well. He mentioned cases of some applicants waiting up to 20 years for their immigration application to be approved.
“If we fix our legal immigration system, I’m confident that’s going to take some pressure off of folks coming in undocumented,” he said. “We can be a stronger nation in the years ahead if we harness the potential of our immigrants and do it in an orderly and reasonable way.”
Castro stood by criticisms of the Iowa Caucus, which he thinks harms voters. He said the structure of the process, which is done on a single night, during the coldest part of the year, without allowing absentee ballots, drastically reduces the amount and type of people who are able to participate.
Castro said shift workers, the elderly and those with disabilities are especially affected by the structure of the caucus.
“Because of that, you have a participation rate that is very low,” Castro said. “On top of that, and this is probably the point that makes more people a little bit uncomfortable, but it’s true — the state of Iowa and state of New Hampshire don’t reflect the diversity of our party or our country.”
Castro has not qualified for the next presidential debate on Dec. 19. Nonetheless, he said he was optimistic about qualifying for the January debate. Some of the attendants seemed unbothered by his low performance in the polls.
“I think he deserves to be on the debate stage,” said Tanvi Yenna, one of the attendants. “It looks like all the candidates in the next debate are white, and given that there’s non-white candidates, I think he deserves to be on the stage.”
Yenna said she’s tied in her preference between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but still placed Castro in her top three or four.
“I think Ottumwans always appreciate somebody who visits Ottumwa, so I definitely appreciate him coming,” she said. “He seems like one of the most socially progressive candidates that we have in the field, so it’s good to see him.”
Nicholas Chnerre, a former teacher, said Castro was his top pick.
“As a teacher, I unfortunately experienced one of my students going through the immigration process, and their family was deported,” Chnerre said. “I was waiting for somebody on the debate stage to finally stand up for immigrants and actually talk about getting policies done.”
Nathaniel Gavronsky, president of Constituent’s Direct, an activist group that helps connect people with their elected officials, said he’s undecided.
“I want people to keep investigating,” Gavronsky said. “I want people to look at each candidate and think about whether they’re running because they want the title ‘President of the United States,’ or do they actually have an altruistic value to their character? Regardless of their ideology, regardless of the rhetoric of their party.”