2020 Democrats share their families' immigration histories

2020 Democrats share their families' immigration histories

Democrats vying for the 2020 presidential nomination shared the stories of how their families arrived in the United States as immigration shapes up to be a defining issue on the campaign trail.

Twenty-one of the 24 Democratic White House hopefuls sat down with The New York Times and described the diverse background of their first American ancestors, ranging from English colonial settlers in the 1600s to students coming for an education in the 1950s. 

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg looks to upend Democratic race Poll: Biden support hits record low of 26 percent The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump demands Bidens testify MORE (N.J.) spoke of appearing on the PBS show “Finding Your Roots” and learning of his genealogy from host Henry Louis Gates.


“I am the descendant of slaves, of people that were born from a slave and a slave master,” Booker said.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOvernight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies Krystal Ball credits Gabbard's upswing in 2020 race to 'feckless' Democratic establishment Outsider candidates outpoll insider candidates MORE (Mass.) previously stirred controversy when she took a DNA test to prove that she had Native American history, but she did not mention that side of her family during the interview with the Times. Instead, she spoke of how her father’s grandfather came to the U.S. as a boy and help found a series of hardware stores in Oklahoma.

Many of the candidates have traced their heritages back to Europe.

Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetPress: Another billionaire need not apply Democrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows MORE (Colo.) said his family history stretches from the arrival of Mayflower to when his mother came at the age of 10 years old as a Polish Jew who had survived the Holocaust.

Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonWe still owe LGBT veterans for their patriotism and service It's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number Bill introduced to give special immigrant visas to Kurds who helped US in Syria MORE (Mass.) described his family as a “New England family from the start,” noting how his ancestors came from England as early as the 1600s and settled in the region. 

Several other candidates — including Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellDemocrats sharpen their message on impeachment Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Republicans, Democrats brace for first public testimony in impeachment inquiry MORE (Calif.), former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyBloomberg run should push Warren to the center — but won't The Hill's 12:30 Report: Impeachment fight enters new stage Biden hits Warren over 'Medicare for All' plan MORE (Md.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas) and Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanStrategists say Warren 'Medicare for All' plan could appeal to centrists Trump mocks O'Rourke after Democrat drops out of race The Memo: What the leading 2020 Dems need to do MORE (Ohio) — spoke of having Irish, English or Welsh familial ties.

Many first-generation Americans spoke of their parents arriving in the country for better opportunities, often to get an education. 

“My parents arrived in the late 1950s. My mother came from India to go to the University of California, Berkeley, to study science,” said Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisOutsider candidates outpoll insider candidates Poll: Buttigieg leads Democratic field in Iowa Press: Another billionaire need not apply MORE (Calif.).

Entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangNew Quinnipiac poll finds Biden leading in New Hampshire Intercollegiate athletics just got a two-minute warning AI and automation will disrupt our world — but only Andrew Yang is warning about it MORE’s parents also came to the U.S. to study at the school in the 1960s from Taiwan.

Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegPress: Another billionaire need not apply Saagar Enjeti dismisses Warren, Klobuchar claims of sexism Warren on winning over male voters: I was told to 'smile more' MORE, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., described his father landing at John F. Kennedy Airport in the 1970s from Malta.

“He said it was such a chaotic and intimidating scene that he briefly thought about getting right back on the plane and heading home,” Buttigieg told The Times.

Sen. Bernie Sander’s (I-Vt.) father came to the U.S. from Poland when he was a teenager. His mother’s family came from Russia.

“And when we talk about the fact that I am the son of an immigrant, I am somewhat sensitive to the issue of immigration and immigration reform and the kind of ugly attacks that we’re seeing right now on the immigrant community,” Sanders said.

Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockPress: Another billionaire need not apply Obama's former chief economist advising Buttigieg The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump says Dems shouldn't hold public hearings MORE admitted that he did not know precise details about his family’s immigration stories.

“I should know that and I don’t know,” Bullock said with a laugh. “I know that the family history is probably not as solid … and I know that on my mother’s side, I think her great-great-grandfather settled in Henry country in Iowa. And on my father’s side, I’m not sure where."