By Ben Kamisar
November 9, 2015
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is pledging to act on a pathway to citizenship in the first 100 days of his presidency, if elected, and to expand President Obama’s executive actions to stop deportations for millions of people in the country illegally.
“We cannot and must not sweep up millions of men, women and children, many of whom have been here for years, and throw them out of this country,” Sanders, a contender for the Democratic nomination, said Monday at a summit sponsored by The Nation and The Fair Immigration Reform Movement in Las Vegas.
“As president, passing a legislative solution to our broken immigration system will be a top priority. But let me be clear — I will not wait around for Congress to act.”
Sanders used his address at the pro-immigration reform summit to spell out a more detailed version of his plan.
Sanders wants to extend the Obama administration program halting deportations to include the parents of citizens and legal permanent residents, as well as others who would have been covered under a 2013 Senate immigration reform bill.
That bill died after the GOP-led House didn't take it up.
His plan would grant “humane treatment and asylum” to domestic violence victims and unaccompanied children fleeing from Latin America. It would also address gender inequality in immigration policy, he said.
Sanders reiterated his call to stop the privatization of deportation centers and “inhumane” treatment at these centers.
“The growth of the immigrant detention, deportation machine and the expansion of broader militarization has perpetuated unjust policies and resulted in the separation of hundreds of thousands of immigrant families,” he said.
“The goal is to bring families together, not to separate them.”
Obama's executive actions on illegal immigration drew GOP opposition. Supporters say the president has the right to direct how the executive branch prioritizes the laws.
But opponents, who are challenging the president in court, say he exceeded his powers and is failing to uphold immigration laws.
Obama instituted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012, allowing children who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents to stay in the country. But a further expansion, announced in late 2014, has been held up by legal challenges.
Sanders’s opponents, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Gov. Martin O’Malley (Md.), want to expand Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
Sanders wholly embraced the executive actions in an exchange with a Nevada man who received deportation deferral for himself, but not his mother, who would have qualified under Obama's expanded order.
“We will use the power of executive orders are boldly as we can,” Sanders said.
“This country faces a number of serious criminal issues. Your mother, I suspect, is not one of them, so that means as we prioritize what law enforcement does. Going after your mom and millions of other moms should not be a priority.”
A panelist asked the progressive senator about how he would get his policies through a Republican-controlled Congress.
Sanders noted his experience serving on the Veterans' Affairs Committee and added that Democrats need to sway voters before seeing tangible results.
“So long as Republicans think that they gain politically by demonizing the immigrant community and appealing to racism, we are not going to win this struggle,” he said.
Sanders is working to reach out to minorities, including Hispanics, amid concerns from some Democrats that his support is mostly limited to white voters.
A new Fox News poll shows that Clinton has support from 67 percent of nonwhite voters, compared to 22 percent who back Sanders.
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