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Detroit — Former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke said Tuesday he would support reparations for African-Americans if elected during the first of two nights of Democratic presidential debates in Detroit.

"(The legacy) of slavery and segregation is alive and well in every aspect in the economy and the country," O'Rourke said in response to a question during the debate at Fox Theatre.

O'Rourke was among 10 Democratic presidential candidates who debated Tuesday on issues ranging from  health care, immigration, gun violence to climate change and race relations.

The debate featured sparring between U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren with more moderate hopefuls about progressive ideas such as Medicare for All on health care coverage. O'Rourke wasn't involved in most of the exchanges.

But on a question about whether border crossings should be subject to criminal prosecutions, O'Rourke said he did not support the decriminalization of illegal border crossings and said he would like to exercise the right to prosecute.

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"I expect that people who come here follow our laws, and we reserve the right to criminally prosecute them if they do not," said O'Rourke, who came within 3 percentage points of beating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in the 2018 election. 

On health care, the the 46-year-old former congressman said the Affordable Care Act still leaves millions of Americans uninsured and that "still people are not guaranteed the health care they need."

O'Rourke said  the middle class would not pay more in taxes to ensure that every American is guaranteed world-class health care.

"I think we're being offered a false choice, some who want to improve the Affordable Care Act at the margins, others who want a Medicare for All program that will force people off of private insurance," he said. "I have a better path."

O'Rourke said the rampant gun violence in the country continues because "nothing has changed because in this country money buys influence, access and increasingly the outcome."

As president, he said he would "make sure that we  ban political action committee contributions to any member of Congress or any candidate for federal office. We will listen to people, not PACs; people, not corporations ... people, not special interests."

O"Rourke has been a frequent visitor to Michigan this year having visited Detroit, Center Line , Flint and Ferndale in March. He was among the candidates who participated in a candidates' forum at the national convention of the NAACP July 24.

See all candidate major moments 

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

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