During last night’s Democratic debate, both candidates broke with President Barack Obama’s policy of mass deportations of undocumented immigrants across the country and promised to not deport any undocumented children or adults without criminal records. The pledge to break with Obama-era policy on undocumented immigrants reflects popular and Congressional outrage over the raids.
“Of the people, the undocumented people living in our country, I do not want to see them deported. I want to see them on a path to citizenship. That is exactly what I will do,” Clinton said.
Sanders in turn pointed to Clinton’s statements in 2014, regarding a recent influx of refugees from Central America at the Texas-Mexico border. “They should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are,” Clinton said at the time, “because there are concerns about whether all of them should be sent back.”
“Secretary Clinton did not support those children coming into this country. I did,” said Sanders. “Now, I happen to agree with President Obama on many, many issues. I think he has done a great job as president of the United States. He is wrong on this issue of deportation. I disagree with him on that.”
It was another moment of criticism from Sanders, who has been accused of being far too critical of Obama’s policies.
“I have been consistent and committed to comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship,” responded Clinton, referring to Ted Kennedy’s efforts to achieve immigration reform in 2007. “We had Republican support, we had a president willing to sign it. I voted for that bill. Sen. Sanders voted against it. Just think — imagine where we would be today if we had achieved comprehensive immigration reform nine years ago.”
Sanders says he opposed the bill because of the conditions it allowed that he called “akin to slavery.” At the time, Sanders also argued that increased numbers of guest workers would depress wages for Americans. “It is not about raising wages or improving benefits,” he said. “What it is about is bringing into this country over a period of years millions of low-wage temporary workers with the result that wages and benefits in this country, which are already going down, will go down even further.”
The AFL-CIO sided with Sanders over the same concerns about low wage workers. “Sanders was basically one of our only allies … especially for low-skilled workers,” said Ana Avendano, a former top immigration official at the AFL-CIO, to Politico. “He adamantly put his foot down and said these kinds of programs [allow] employers to bring in more and more vulnerable workers.”
While Republicans continue to outmaneuver each other on who can kick out the most undocumented immigrants, build the highest wall with Mexico, or cast doubt on the constitutionality of citizenship laws, Democrats have taken a more pragmatic position on one of the most pressing issues of this election cycle. According to Pew Research Center, some 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States today. In both Democratic candidates, the millions of immigrants seeking a path to citizenship may have an ally in the White House come January.