DALLAS (AP) — Problems with the nation's immigration system dominated a debate Friday between U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic challenger David Alameel.
Alameel cited the GOP, with its House majority, as the biggest obstacle to a comprehensive overhaul, while Cornyn said the fractured political culture in Washington is to blame. He endorsed a step-by-step approach to changing the system.
The debate at Mountain View College in Dallas was sponsored by Univision and streamed live over the Internet.
Alameel touted comprehensive immigration system changes as the cure for most of the ills faced by Hispanics in the U.S., even those in the country legally.
"Most of the Latinos here who are undocumented are people who have been here for many, many years; people who are very hard-working, God-fearing, pro-family. ... And I believe that they deserve the same path to the American dream as every other community," he said.
Cornyn said he doesn't think anyone is happy with the current immigration system. "The issue is how do we find some consensus," he said. "And I think the way we begin to do that is to find a way to break this down into smaller pieces because frankly there's so much distrust and division in Washington, D.C., these days. It's hard, if not impossible, to pass a comprehensive bill that does everything."
The debate was the only one scheduled between the candidates.
Democrats have been working to maximize the Hispanic vote, something that was lacking in 2012. That year, turnout among voting-age Hispanics was 39 percent, compared with 61 percent for whites, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. In the last governor's election, only a quarter of the Hispanic voters of the Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas cast ballots.
Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, has done little outright campaigning against Alameel, a dental mogul from Dallas who lost a bid for Congress in 2012 and was previously a top GOP donor. When questioned about backing Cornyn and the Republican Party previously, Alameel dismissed it as a mistake.
Republicans can retake control of the Senate if they gain six seats, which has Cornyn keeping an eye on competitive races elsewhere as much as his own.
The debate originally was scheduled to air only on delay on Univision stations across Texas, although both candidates debated in English. But the Texas Tribune announced this week that it would stream the debate live, with C-SPAN carrying it on a two-hour delay.
Alameel is a Lebanon-born multimillionaire who tapped his own fortune to finance this race and his failed bid for a U.S. House seat two years ago. He has said he was part of once-secret negotiations in Afghanistan, trying to persuade the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Cornyn, meanwhile, has raised more than $14 million and launched a statewide "Keep It Red" campaign for Republicans this election cycle after Democrats launched the Battleground Texas organization with hopes of ending 20 years of GOP victories in statewide elections.
Like most Texas Republicans in the past two decades, Cornyn has twice coasted over Democratic opponents since being first elected to the Senate in 2002. Democrats did no better when Texas' other Senate seat opened in 2012, when tea party-supported Ted Cruz easily beat Paul Sadler.