How the Democratic candidates compare on immigration issues

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders agree that the nation needs to rewrite its immigration laws, but they disagree on some of the specific proposals. Both candidates want to go further than President Barack Obama to protect immigrants in the country illegally from deportation, but Sanders accuses Clinton of being inconsistent and not compassionate on the issue.

Pathway to citizenship

Both Clinton and Sanders support a rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws that includes a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are in the country illegally.

“The quicker we can legalize the people that are here, the better the job market will be for everybody,” Clinton said at a campaign event in Nevada last year.

“Bernie supports immigration reform that will address the legal status of the 11 million undocumented people in our country,” according to his website.

Guest worker programs

Clinton supports guest worker programs. As a senator, she voted for a 2007 immigration bill that included an expansion of guest worker programs – allowing them to receive a visa to be employed year-round. She criticized Sanders for failing to support it. “I voted for comprehensive immigration reform in 2007,” Clinton said at a Democratic debate in Milwaukee in February. “Senator Sanders voted against it at that time.”

Sanders has been skeptical of guest worker programs, which he says are often pushed by large corporations and result in more unemployment and lower wages for American workers.

He has said repeatedly that he voted against the 2007 immigration bill because he was warned that the guest worker piece was akin to slavery.

“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 at the Milwaukee debate. “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’d be thrown out of this country. It wasn’t just me who opposed it. It was LULAC, one of the large Latino organizations in this country. It was the AFL-CIO. It was some of the most progressive members of the United States Congress.”


Clinton approves of President Barack Obama’s plan to halt the deportation of immigrants who are in the country illegally. She said she would expand his plan to include other groups of immigrants, including parents of DREAMers, children brought into the country illegally.

Sanders approves of Obama’s plan to halt the deportation of immigrants who are in the country illegally. He said he would expand it to include other groups of immigrants, including parents of DREAMers, parents of citizens, parents of legal permanent residents and others who would have been given legal protections though an unsuccessful 2013 immigration bill, according to his website.

Drivers Licenses

In 2007, during her first run for president, Clinton was criticized for opposing a bill that would have allowed immigrants who are in the county illegally to obtain driver’s licenses.

Clinton now supports allowing them to have licenses. “Back then, it was a state-by-state determination, and I’m happy that most states have understood and moved in the right direction,” she said at a Las Vegas town hall in February.

Sanders said he supports state policies that give driver’s licenses to immigrants in the United States illegally. “In Vermont ... I worked with officials, and undocumented people in Vermont do have the ability to get driver’s licenses,” he said at the Miami debate.

Border security

As a senator, Clinton voted to construct hundreds of miles of fencing along the border with Mexico, but she now says that improvements made under the past two presidents have cut net illegal immigration from Mexico to zero. She says attention should turn instead to broader legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship.

“We have the most secure border we’ve ever had,” she said at a Democratic debate in Miami in March. The numbers of people being apprehended trying to cross the border are “the lowest they’ve been in 40 years, which just strengthens my argument that now it’s time to do comprehensive immigration reform,” she added.

Sanders said the United States must continually modernize border security measures. He opposes building a fence.

“We don’t need a wall, and we don’t need barbed wire,” he said on a trip to the border in March. “We need to fix our broken criminal justice system. First and foremost, it goes without saying that we need comprehensive immigration reform.”


Clinton has not taken a position on the electronic verification known as E-Verify, according to various immigration groups on different sides of the issue. But as a senator she did vote for a larger immigration bill that included E-Verify. Her campaign said she believes that “any future effort to make E-Verify mandatory should be tied to comprehensive immigration reform.”

Sanders supports electronic verification systems, such as E-Verify, which he says would protect workers’ due process rights and should contain strong protections against abuse.

Jacob Bell and Jessica Nocera in Washington contributed to this report.

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