Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris dueled Friday over Hispanic votes in California, a central front in the nation’s immigration battle where Latinos represent the state’s largest ethnic group.

As the nation’s most populous state, California holds a trove of 2020 delegates that are being eagerly sought by Democratic presidential rivals. The appearance of the two prominent contenders at a forum organized by immigrant rights activists kicked off several days of intense campaigning in the state, which will culminate at a state Democratic convention in San Francisco where 14 candidates are scheduled to appear.

Harris elicited a burst of applause when she told the group that she was a proud daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, then promised that if elected she would work for comprehensive immigration reform in her first 100 days in office.

She also promised to end the “hate-driven” policies of the Trump administration, including the so-called travel ban.

“This is a nation that was founded by immigrants,” she said at one point. Any delay, she said, brings more human suffering when families are separated or treated unjustly.

“We will fight,” she said.

Candidates can expect a skeptical look from many voters, Latino and otherwise, who have heard promises from both parties for years about immigration reform that never arrived.

Lisa Luther, who attended a raucous Sanders rally earlier in the day at a nearby convention center, said she was confident the senator could deliver on immigration reform when other Democrats have failed. Luther, who once worked as a chef, said she has seen firsthand the struggles of immigrants who worked beside her.

Sanders “will not let it fall by the wayside,” she said. “It’s been so prevalent in … his campaigns.”

California was once a reliably Republican state in presidential elections, but a surge in immigrants transformed the state and its voting patterns. The number of Hispanics, blacks and Asians combined has outnumbered whites in the state since 1998. Meanwhile, new voters, largely Latinos and Asians, lean Democratic.

The last Republican to carry the state in a presidential election was George H.W. Bush, in 1988.

Expected to join Sanders and Harris at the event are fellow Democratic contenders Julian Castro, a former Obama administration housing secretary, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

MICHAEL R. BLOOD Associated Press

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *