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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Students take selfies with presidential candidate and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro after Castro spoke at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — Julian Castro, a 2020 presidential candidate, appealed to Hispanic high school and university students Wednesday, encouraging those who would be of age by the election to vote for him.

Castro, who's running as a Democrat, was the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under former President Barack Obama and is the former mayor of San Antonio. He came to Utah as part of his pledge to visit all 50 states during his campaign for the White House.

He spoke at the 24th annual MEChA — a Spanish acronym for Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan — High School Leadership conference at the University of Utah.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Presidential candidate and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro speaks to high school and university students at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019.

"I'm running for president today because I believe that it's time for new energy, new leadership," Castro told the around 400 high school students in the crowd.

Castro, 44, joked people might confuse him with his identical twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, who recently sponsored the House bill to override President Donald Trump's national emergency declaration.

In his speech, Castro outlined key issues important to him and said if elected, he would make America the "smartest, healthiest, fairest and most prosperous" nation in the world.

In order to become the "smartest" nation, he said more resources need to be invested in education. Creating universal pre-K education, improving public schools and offering tuition-free universal higher education are a few of the issues he said he planned to address if elected.

Turning the U.S. into the "healthiest" nation would take reforming the health care system and providing Medicare for "all people in this country," he explained.

Reforming the justice system is one step to becoming the "fairest" nation, he said.

"No matter what color your skin is, or how much money you have, you are innocent until proven guilty," he said to a cheering crowd. "I want a country where … you can feel safe in your community."

Immigration reform is another step toward becoming fair, he emphasized.

"We should not be taking little children from their mothers and their fathers and detaining them," he said. "We need to end family detention."

As for "most prosperous" nation, he said creating affordable housing and raising the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour is what's necessary.

Another issue he touched on was climate change, saying the first executive order he would sign if elected would be to recommit the U.S. to the Paris climate accord.

During the Q&A portion of the presentation, Carlos Padilla, senior at Judge Memorial Catholic High School, asked Castro how he would raise the minimum wage without hurting the economy, causing inflation and increasing prices.

In his answer, Castro disagreed that raising the minimum wage would hurt the economy and instead said he believed it could be raised in a nondestructive way over time. He also noted he would create a comprehensive plan and reform tax code, but didn't go into further detail.

"I found that it was fair but I couldn't help notice he didn't really, in his presentation nor his response, (give) a real solid plan to how he's actually going to do that," Padilla told the Deseret News after the event. "We've had these same promises for years and years at reforming tax code."

Padilla, 18, said he is interested in politics and plans to be a lawyer in the future. He appreciated some points Castro brought up but said he will continue to inform himself before he votes in his first election.

"I've been keeping up with each side of the political spectrum with every candidate so … when I go to the polls I'm going to make a decision I feel like is best for me, my family and our country," he said.

Padilla said he would like to see Castro lay out key details for his lofty goals.

"I think they're very important issues, such as immigration reform," he said. "I think it's an important message, I just wish he had elaborated on it better. He's basically saying here's a problem, we need to fix it, but he didn't give us any way that he will fix it or any timeframe. But I think they're big issues."

He noted it's important to once again see Hispanic representation in a presidential candidate, mentioning Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who both ran in the 2016 presidential race.

"I'm glad that he's running and I'm glad that he has these issues that are on his mind, I just hope that if he does make it farther in this race that he comes with concrete ways to fix these issues," Padilla said.

Another focus of Castro's speech was to offer perspective and advice to high school students, something Valeria Escobar, sophomore at the U. and officer for the university's chapter of MEChA, said is important.

"A lot of high school students are a little lacking in the motivation that they need in order to succeed," Escobar said. "It's not so often that you get to see someone that shares the same traditions as you to be able to represent something, especially in a political stance."

Castro said he wants students to aim high and work hard.

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"I feel like I've been able to live out my dream and I want to make sure that in the years to come, no matter who you are, where you live, what your background is, that you can live your dream, too," Castro told the students.

"As young people of our country you often get told that you're the future. And you get told that because that's true," he said. "But you're not just the future, you're the present."

He continued, saying students have intelligent opinions on important issues and should engage with the Democratic process.

"Your voice deserves a place at the table," he said. "You can compete with anybody if you're willing to work hard and put in the time to do it."