Presidential Candidate Julián Castro responds to questions during a Fox News Town Hall event in Tempe, Arizona.
Presidential Candidate Julián Castro responds to questions during a Fox News Town Hall event in Tempe, Arizona. Credit: Courtesy / Fox Broadcast

Presidential candidate Julián Castro, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary and former San Antonio mayor, fielded questions at a one-hour Fox News town hall in Tempe, Arizona, on Thursday.

Provided a national stage on which to distinguish himself among a packed Democratic field, Castro focused on his numerous policy plans during the town hall, redirecting his answers to reflect his own platform whenever hosts Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum asked him for his opinion on other Democratic candidates’ positions.

“I don’t want to distract [people] now talking about other candidates when the fact is I need to introduce myself to a lot of people who don’t know who I am yet in this Democratic primary,” said Castro, whose nationwide polling numbers have him well down the list of contenders. “I don’t want them to know who Joe Biden is and what he stands for with this air time. I want them to know what Julián Castro believes and what he thinks.”

A significant portion of the town hall focused on immigration. Castro, who served as San Antonio’s mayor from 2009 to 2014, criticized the Trump administration for its handling of asylum seekers coming to the United States. President Donald Trump’s immigration policies lack compassion and concern, Castro said. He pointed to separating families at the border and migrants detained outdoors in El Paso for a month in the summer heat, as Texas Monthly reported Tuesday.

“We have tried his cruelty and mistakes,” Castro said. “There’s a better way to do this.

“We need to treat people with compassion and not cruelty,” he said to applause from the audience.

Castro released his “People First Immigration” plan in April, the day before Trump visited San Antonio for a private fundraiser. Castro promised to put undocumented immigrants on the path toward citizenship, invest in judges and support staff to reduce the backlog of immigration cases, and find the root cause of the increase in asylum seekers coming to the U.S.

“In places like Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, people can’t find safety and opportunity there in their home country,” he said. “That’s why a mother would bring her 6-month-old infant without any guarantee of getting in.

“I have called for the equivalent of a 21st-century Marshall Plan, based on mutual respect and working with these countries and Mexico, so people can find safety and opportunity there,” Castro added, prompting some nods of approval from audience members.

Castro also acknowledged his violation of the Hatch Act while he served as HUD secretary in the Obama administration. What separates him and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, who the U.S. Office of Special Counsel recommended Thursday be removed from her post for allegedly violating the Hatch Act, was his ability to see his error and fix it, Castro said. The Hatch Act prohibits employees in the executive branch of the U.S. government from engaging in political activity.

“She violated the Hatch Act, and instead of saying, ‘I’m going to make sure it doesn’t happen again,’ she said, ‘To hell with it, I’m going to keep doing it,’” Castro said. “They said she had repeatedly done that.”

The audience clapped when Castro explained why he decided to put police reform on his list of priorities. Why, he asked, was a shooter who killed nine at a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015 apprehended without being injured, while many people of color died at the hands of law enforcement?

“Too often, we have seen police mistreat [people], especially young men of color, a lot of young black men,” Castro said. “How many videos do we have to watch? We’re in an age of technology where you see the video now. How many do we have to watch before we understand that even though we have great police officers, this is not the problem of a few bad apples? The system itself is broken and we need to fix it.”

Castro said he was proud to be one of the few candidates with executive experience, gained from his time as a cabinet member and as mayor of San Antonio. He pointed to his work on Pre-K 4 SA, where voters approved a measure to increase sales tax to fund early childhood education programs in San Antonio. His presidential education plan is an expanded version of that.

“One of the reasons why I think folks are looking more to people who have mayoral experience these days because the mayor is about getting things done,” he said. “The mayor is the person that gets the call about streets that need to get fixed, or fire response that’s not fast enough, or police response that’s not fast enough. ‘What are you going to do to create economic opportunity, more jobs in this community?’ People are able to measure you very easily by whether you get things done.”

Castro again shared the story of his grandmother, who immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old. She raised Castro’s mother on the West Side of San Antonio, and Rosie Castro raised her twin boys, Julían and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, he said.

“This country provided her the opportunity to work hard, to provide for her daughter, to see her daughter be the first to graduate from high school and go on to college,” he said. “And then just two generations after she got to the United States, one of her grandsons, my twin brother Joaquin, is a U.S. congressman and the other one is running for the president of the United States. That is America,” he said to applause. “That is what we can do.”

Castro will participate in a two-day debate with the other Democratic presidential candidates in Miami later this month. He hit the 65,000 individual donor requirement in May.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.