US Elections 2016

Clinton, Sanders distance themselves from Obama over deportations

Both Democratic candidates promise to push for immigration reform during TV debate

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton during the debate.
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton during the debate.JOE RAEDLE / AFP

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Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both distanced themselves from President Barack Obama’s policy of deporting undocumented immigrants when they held their eighth televised debate on Wednesday night.

The two contenders said the United States had to put limits on a policy that even some Democrats have criticized. Sanders and Clinton agreed on the need for comprehensive immigration reform for the country’s 11 million undocumented residents. Yet, they still criticized each other over their former positions on the issue.

Univision and CNN hosted the debate at Miami Dade College, just six days before Florida holds its primary. The state is home to a large Hispanic community: around 20% of its residents are of Latino descent and immigration is a sensitive issue there. Univision journalist Jorge Ramos, a well-known activist for immigrants who has criticized Obama’s deportation policy, asked the contenders to explain their views.

Though Sanders and Clinton hope to distinguish themselves, they do admit when they agree

Sanders and Clinton tried to disassociate themselves from the president. Clinton promised not to deport children and their families and assured voters that she would only back deportations for undocumented immigrants who “threaten us.”

Sanders added: “[Obama] is wrong on this issue of deportation” and called separating families “immoral.”

Both candidates were asked if they considered Donald Trump, the front-runner in the Republican race who speaks out against immigrants, a racist. Clinton quickly reminded the crowd that “I was the first one to call him out. I called him out when he was calling Mexicans rapists.”

Sanders also evaded the direct question, but later stated that Trump and others resorted to “racism and xenophobia” and that the Republican contender’s goal to deport 11 million undocumented US residents was “absurd.”

Although Sanders and Clinton both call for comprehensive immigration reform, Clinton censured the Vermont senator for voting against an immigration bill sponsored by Ted Kennedy in 2007 and she promised to propose a plan within her first 100 days in office. Sanders said the reform bill had not had the support of Latino organizations and that he did later back a 2013 bipartisan bill that eventually failed to pass Congress.

Both agreed that Cuba must start building a democratic system and respect human rights

Unlike the Republican debates where the contenders have grown increasingly aggressive with one another, the Democratic encounters have ebbed and flowed. Though Sanders and Clinton hope to distinguish themselves, they do admit when they agree.

Both candidates said they supported the Obama administration’s work on US-Cuban relations. Sanders said he was in favor of lifting the economic embargo, a measure that former secretary of state Clinton proposed months ago. Both agreed that Cuba must start building a democratic system and respect human rights.

Then, Sanders offered an alternative view of American foreign policy in Latin America. He criticized the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961 and efforts to overthrow governments in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Chile. The Vermont senator, who identifies himself as a socialist, said it was a mistake not to recognize Cuban advances in medicine and education.

Meanwhile, Clinton said she supported restructuring Puerto Rico’s $70 billion debt, a comment clearly meant to warm the hearts of one million Puerto Ricans living in Florida, many of whom came to the mainland in the wake of the economic crisis on the island.

Recent polls give Clinton a comfortable lead over Sanders in Florida, especially because she has the support of the Latino community.

English version by Dyane Jean François.

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