Democratic presidential candidate Bernard Sanders said Monday he would grant a blanket deportation amnesty to most illegal immigrants and welcome a new surge of illegal immigrants from Central America as he accused Republicans of “racism” for demanding stiffer immigration enforcement.
Speaking to immigration activists in Nevada, Mr. Sanders, the son of immigrants, said illegal immigrants should get quick citizenship, and it shouldn’t be dependent on whether the border is secured first, and he demanded Congress pass a more generous bill than the 2013 immigration measure that cleared the Senate.
But Mr. Sanders also said if he wins the White House, he’ll follow President Obama’s lead and act unilaterally to expand the current deportation amnesty to include nearly all illegal immigrants.
“The bottom line is that we cannot, and we should not, sweep up millions of men, women and children — many of whom have been here for years — and throw them out of the country,” he said in remarks prepared for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement summit. “We need a path to citizenship to bring 11 million people out of the shadows.
Mr. Sanders lashed out at existing immigration policy, saying it discriminates against women who accompany their husbands to the U.S. by denying them a chance to work as well.
And the Vermont senator said he would allow even illegal immigrants who have been deported but sneak back into the U.S. to get on track for citizenship under his plans.
His remarks come as Democrats are competing to see who can be the most generous toward illegal immigrants, with an eye on winning Hispanic voters in the 2016 election.
Over the weekend former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley made a similar plea to the same gathering, but he accused both Mr. Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of being too timid on immigration.
Mr. O’Malley pointed to Mr. Sanders’ vote in 2007 against a broad legalization bill. At the time Mr. Sanders was protesting the large number of future guest workers that were to be admitted under the legislation, fearing they could undercut American workers.
Mr. O’Malley and Mrs. Clinton have already laid out expansive immigration plans that call for going further than Mr. Obama, who has already pushed the legal limits of what a president can do. Mr. Obama’s deportation amnesty for illegal immigrant parents, which would apply to as many as 4 million, has been halted by federal courts.
Mr. Sanders, in his speech Monday, promised to lay out his own broader immigration plans within weeks, but said it will be guided by generosity.
In particular, he said the U.S. would welcome Central Americans who have surged the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years believing Mr. Obama’s lax enforcement policies would give them a chance to sneak into the U.S.
Mr. Sanders said many of them are fleeing domestic violence back home, and he said the U.S. should consider them asylum-seekers and welcome them.
“America has always been a haven for the oppressed. We cannot and must not shirk the historic role of the United States as a protector of vulnerable people fleeing persecution,” he said.