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Students Hear from Barack Obama and Mitt Romney at Univision’s ‘Meet the Candidates’ Forum

September 21, 2012
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The president discussed immigration reform, education, and his goals for a second term of office.

A year from now, Arianne Alcorta will take part in an annual ritual that occurs as reliably as the sunrise: recent college students looking for jobs.

The 19-year-old University of Miami junior, who is on track to graduate next spring, is concerned about job prospects in an employment market that remains thin. So, on September 20, Alcorta asked the nation’s highest authority—President Barack Obama—for his advice on what she and other Latina women should do to be successful in finding work.

Make sure you get your college degree, Obama told her. “I’ll tell you what I tell my daughters,” he added. “America remains a country where, if you work hard and remain persistent, you can succeed. Some of the battles that were fought before you were born were for opportunities that are opening up for Latina women and African-Americans.”

In the second of two Univision sit-down talks focusing on Hispanic issues, Obama not only addressed Alcorta’s jobs question but answered a host of others, ranging from immigration reform and his goals for a second term of office to education and how his administration has handled security issues in the wake of violence at U.S. embassies abroad.

Republican presidential nominee Governor Mitt Romney, on stage inside UM's BankUnited Center Fieldhouse with Univision anchors Maria Elena Salinas and Jorge Ramos, a UM alumnus.

The day before, Obama’s Republican presidential rival, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, sat in the same seat within UM’s BankUnited Center Fieldhouse, discussing similar issues and answering questions from Univision anchors Maria Elena Salinas and Jorge Ramos.

About 300 UM students and other guests attended both forums, getting an in-depth look at the two presidential candidates as the November 6 election quickly approaches.

Obama’s conversation opened with issues abroad. The commander-in-chief first addressed the Arab Spring, explaining that the “larger issue is what will happen as those countries transition from dictatorships to democracy.” He said the United States remains committed to working with them.

At both the Obama and Romney forums, a handful of students had the opportunity of a lifetime—the chance to inspect the candidates for whom they’re deciding to vote. Issues that directly affect them, whether from an academic or personal standpoint, dominated their questions.

Connie Fossi, a 22-year-old journalism major at UM, was the first student to question Romney, asking him where he stands on the federal Pell Grant Program that provides need-based assistance to low-income undergraduate students. “It’s an issue that’s important to me because I have a Pell Grant that’s helped me attend school,” said Fossi.

Romney said that, if elected president, he would continue the Pell Grant Program and allow the grants to grow at the rate of inflation.

UM student Laura Morcate wanted to know what steps Romney would take to ease the debt burden on college students faced with trying to repay college loans. Romney told her that the best thing he could do for her was to help ensure that she not only got a job after graduating, but that the job would be one in her field.

Among other issues addressed by Romney, he promised to reform immigration, saying Democrats and Republicans need to work together to find a solution. He outlined his five-point plan to create 12 million new jobs, citing a balanced budget, pro-small-business agenda, skills training for job seekers, increasing trade, and creating opportunities in renewable energy as key factors in his plan. He also talked of partnering with Mexico to help put an end to drug cartels.

University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala said the institution was “proud to be part of these important events that will address the future of education and Hispanics in the nation” and that students were “thrilled to have the candidates for president on our campus.”

The forums come four years after Univision hosted its Destino debates at UM featuring Democratic and Republican candidates in two separate forums addressing Hispanic issues.

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