Bernie Sanders was correct to criticize Clinton’s push to deport Central America children while she was Secretary of State. He certainly grabbed the opportunity to go after Clinton’s poor choice of words about using deportation to “send a message” to the children and families who are fleeing violence. The NYT editorial board used the exchange to highlight Clinton’s mixed record on immigration issues and call on her to support legislation by Senator Reid to provide vulnerable migrant populations with proper legal representation.
Clinton was correct to criticize Sander’s opposition to the 2007 comprehensive immigration reform package. The legislation was the best opportunity in the past decade to fix our broken system and help millions of hardworking and tax paying immigrants obtain legal status. Sanders tried to defend his record by pointing to a small minority of liberal groups that opposed the legislation. However, his defense simply reinforced the narrative that Sanders doesn’t get things done and too often lets ideological purity get in the way of pragmatic results that would have benefited millions.
What’s great is that both of these candidates are generally correct on immigration. We’re nitpicking over details in these debates trying to show who has done better to protect migrant communities in the past and who will best build on the US history of being a nation of immigrants. But either of these candidates would do an excellent job improving US policy in the coming four years. Both candidates have made strong statements promising to protect the human rights of the most vulnerable populations coming across the US border. Having these candidates on record now will make it more difficult for them to back away from strong immigration reform in the general election and in office.
Meanwhile, the Republican side has become a contest over who can be toughest against immigrants, with the racism and xenophobia of the Trump campaign pushing the other candidates to become more extreme.
Immigration issues will be central to the general election because of the clear divide between the two parties. When the Democratic and Republican candidates meet on the debate stage in October and the immigration question comes up, the differences defined in these primary debates will play a key role in deciding the election.