The two remaining candidates vying for the Democratic nomination on Thursday night brought each other’s skeletons out of the closet.
In the final debate before Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders face off in states that feature the most diverse voting electorates yet seen on the campaign trail, the candidates went on the attack to cast doubt on their opponent’s dedication to the pro-immigrant cause.
Clinton was cornered Thursday night into defending past calls to deport waves of Central American children, an issue that was hotly contested at the time but is now deeply unsettling for immigrant communities as fresh rounds of deportation raids sweep the country.
The former secretary of state had taken a hard line against the thousands of unaccompanied minors that flooded the southwest border in 2014. And though Clinton has since dramatically softened her tone on how the U.S. should address the aftermath of the humanitarian crisis at the border, she was put on the defensive to explain why she supported deportation then, but opposes the raids now.
“I made it very clear that those children needed to be processed appropriately,” Clinton said. “But we also had to send a message to families and communities in Central America not to send their children on this dangerous journey in the hands of smugglers.”
More than 100,000 families fled from the violence that had overtaken broad swaths of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to seek safe haven in the U.S. The surge of women and children maxed out federal resources at the border and marked a flashpoint in the immigration debate. Advocates and humanitarian groups have insisted that the vast majority of families likely qualified for asylum relief in the U.S.
But the Obama administration shocked pro-immigrant organizations last month when it began carrying out deportation raids to sweep up families and deport them back to Central America. The raids have stoked fears from the immigrant community and resentment from congressional Democrats who vocally opposed the administration’s position.
“I am against the raids. I’m against the kind of inhumane treatment that is now being visited upon families, waking them up in the middle of the night, rounding them up,” Clinton said.
Sanders was forced to face his own vulnerabilities on immigration, namely his opposition to a 2007 bill to pass comprehensive immigration reform, a lingering problem that most Latinos agree needs to be solved.
“I voted against it because the Southern Poverty Law Center among other groups said that the guest worker programs that were embedded in this agreement were akin to slavery,” Sanders said. “Akin to slavery. Where people came into this country to do guest work, were abused, were exploited. And if they stood up for their rights, they would be thrown out of this country.”