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Democratic Presidential Candidates Pressed on Immigrant ‘Family Reunification’

Ally Boguhn

The Democratic presidential candidates' stances on the deportation of children is a departure from the Obama administration’s position.

Guatemalan immigrant Lucia Quiej questioned Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during Wednesday’s Univision/Washington Post debate about their plans for the reunification of families broken up by deportation.

Quiej, with interpretation provided by Univision reporter Enrique Acevedo, explained that her husband, an undocumented immigrant whose request for asylum had been denied, was deported. “I have a big pain, my sons and me, because the father of my children was deported for not having a license. He was a hard-working man in the field of construction. What will you do to stop the deportations and reunite families?” Quiej asked, according to Vox’s translation, as her five children sat beside her.

Sanders, touting comments from the New York Times editorial board, which wrote that his immigration platform is “the most progressive and the strongest of any candidate running,” said that “the essence of what we are trying to do is to unite families, not to divide families.”

“I will do everything that I can to unite your family,” Sanders promised.

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Sanders’ immigration policy addresses the issue of family reunification. His website vows that if elected, he would “expand the use of humanitarian parole to ensure the return of unjustly deported immigrants,” because “The United States must do the right thing and guarantee the swiftest possible reunification of these broken families.”

Clinton similarly promised during the debate to help families like Quiej’s to be reunited. “I will do everything I can to prevent other families from facing what you are facing. And I will do everything I can to pass laws that would bring families back together,” Clinton said, promising Quiej to “try to bring your family back together.”

Although Clinton’s immigration reform platform as laid out on her website does promise to “keep families together,” it does not mention family reunification.

The candidates were again forced to address deportations when moderator Jorge Ramos confronted Clinton’s assertion in a January debate that although she had said she “wouldn’t be the next deporter in chief,” she nevertheless had “refused two times to say you would not deport children.”

Clinton first doubled down on her promise to “do everything possible to provide due process” for those seeking asylum in the United States. “We have laws. That was the most critical thing I said. … I would like to see those laws changed. I would like see added to them, a guaranteed counsel and other support for children,” Clinton told Ramos.

When pressed to address whether she would deport undocumented children already in the country, Clinton said “I will not deport children. I would not deport children. I do not want to deport family members either, Jorge. I want to, as I said, prioritize who would be deported: violent criminals, people planning terrorist attacks, anybody who threatens us.”

Clinton went on to confirm that she would not deport those already in the United States without criminal records, a promise Sanders would also go on to make.

The Democratic presidential candidates’ stances on the deportation of children is a departure from the Obama administration’s position. 

January’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids on immigrants in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas were part of the Obama administration’s effort to deport more than 100,000 families fleeing violence in Central America.

The raids, which involved only women and children, were “needlessly aggressive and potentially unconstitutional,” according to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights.

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