Democratic Debates Leave Progressive Latinos With More Questions Than Answers

Sam Ruiz SEIU nurse las vegas nevada
Sam Ruiz poses at the Flamingo in Las Vegas Nevada following the first nationally televised Democratic debate, hosted by CNN and Facebook at the Wynn. Ruiz says that he’s leaning towards Hillary Clinton, but wants to hear more from candidates on healthcare, the minimum wage, and immigration. Latin Times / Cedar Attanasio

Las Vegas, Nevada — Want to know who won the Democratic debate on Tuesday? Then don’t ask Latino union organizer and pediatric nurse Sam Ruiz. A Colombian immigrant and a leader of his SEIU-affiliated local in Miami, Florida, Ruiz watched the debate but came away with more questions than answers. Take the minimum wage increase, which he and the SEIU are fighting for nationwide.

“I didn’t hear any specifics from any of them last night,” Ruiz tells the Latin Times on Wednesday in a cafe outside the Flamingo, a few casinos down the Las Vegas strip from the Wynn where the Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb debated on Tuesday.

Born and raised in Colombia, Ruiz moved to the U.S. in 1979 and now works at the Miami Jackson Memorial hospital where his current title is “Pediatric Transport Coordinator, Vascular Access Specialist.”

In practice, that means overseeing the evacuation of babies and children around the U.S. and across Latin America and the Caribbean, bringing them by airplane, helicopter, and ground ambulance.

“You meet parents in the middle of the night, and you rescue their babies. It’s a strong bond -- one couple I have kept in touch with for 14 years,” Ruiz says. “We go the the Bahamas a lot.”

International cases take Ruiz back to Colombia sometimes, where he once picked up a pair of prematurely born twins, whose little hearts needed an operation that couldn’t be done at the local hospital.

Ruiz was in Las Vegas by chance. The SEIU Nurse Alliance scheduled their events far before the Democratic debate was announced, and organizers say that they actually had to shuffle their schedule to make time for participants of the 2015 conference to watch it live.

Who Will Nurses Endorse?

Ruiz was not the only nurse in town during the Democratic debate and the SEIU Nurse Alliance not the only union. National Nurses United demonstrated on Tuesday night in support of Bernie Sanders, who the group endorsed in August.

The SEIU hasn’t endorsed a candidate and didn’t endorse a democrat in the 2008 until after the primaries. Ruiz isn’t ready to call for a vote at his local, but he does have a favorite.

“I’m partial to Hillary,” he says, but adds that he and other nurses “are watching everyone.”

Take health care. Bernie Sanders has won the hearts of many nurse by promising to pursue a single-payer system that would replace the subsidies and health insurance mandate Obamacare with a nationalized health system resembling that of most other industrialized nations.

“I don’t think we’re even looking at single-payer. We have a winning situation [with Obamacare]. We have to make it easier to enroll, we need to eliminate the gaps,” says, adding that “Hillary has said she's willing to help lower out-of-pocket expenses.”

National Nurses United communications director Chuck Idelson strongly disagrees, arguing that Hillary’s plan is not enough.

“The ‘winning situation’ with Obamacare leaves 33 million people without any health coverage. As Bernie Sanders has emphasized, the failure to guarantee health care as a human right [...] is a moral disgrace. His plan [...] is the only way to end this unconscionable nightmare,” Idelson told the Latin Times in a phone interview.

Immigrants Still Booted Off Obamacare

Ruiz’s sister knows what it’s like to be one of those without healthcare. As a legal permanent resident, she is eligible for Obamacare, but Ruiz says that she overestimated her income and when her tax credits were reduced as a result, she chose not to continue her health plan because the premium cost was too much for her to afford.

Other immigrants have faced different but equally devastating bureaucratic nightmares. Remember how much trouble the Obamacare had getting off the ground? The website failings and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services? For immigrants, the website has never been fixed.

An estimated half-million immigrants have been booted off of Obamacare, according to the National Immigration Law Center “due to unresolved immigration status or citizenship inconsistencies,” including 212,000 last year and 430,000 so far in 2015.

Again, that’s not exactly the same problem experienced by Ruiz’s sister. In fact, it’s possible that the majority of the applicants struggling to complete the paperwork are naturalized U.S. citizens like Ruiz himself, according to NILC Health Policy Analyst Angel Padilla.

“HHS really prioritized making the system work for American-born citizens between [the first and second open enrollment periods], they did not do enough to make it work for immigrants,” Padilla says, adding that “there are still a lot of unanswered questions.”

For example, HHS has not provided figures about the national origins of these immigrants, or what part of the U.S. they are concentrated in. So the NILC doesn’t know in which states or in what languages it can best help those who are trying to apply.

Power Of The Latino Vote

Whatever candidate addresses the issues affecting Latino voters will find a friend in Ruiz, who says that his communities -- nurses, unions and Latinos -- will take a leading role in deciding who wins in 2016. Of course, they would still have to vote. Around 50 percent of American adults don’t vote. For Latinos, the rate is even lower.

“We Latinos have the power to make a difference on election day. If we can get every single one of them to vote, we can put down or put up a president.”


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