Sanders makes strongest immigration push yet as 2016 candidate

Updated 2:16 PM EDT, Mon June 22, 2015
(CNN) —  

Bernie Sanders joined Hillary Clinton on Friday in calling for expanded actions to allow the parents of undocumented immigrants brought into the U.S. as children to stay in the country.

The comments by Sanders, who rarely speaks about immigration, essentially match a position made by Clinton last month and represent the Vermont senator’s strongest words yet on the subject since he became a presidential candidate.

“Until we finally pass comprehensive reform – and I would very much like to see the House of Representatives pick up where the Senate left off – we must be aggressive in pursuing policies that are humane and sensible and that keep families together,” Sanders said at a meeting of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. “I strongly support the administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA is a good first step, but it should be expanded.”

He added: “It is time to bring our neighbors out of the shadows. It is time to give them legal status. It is time to create a reasonable path to citizenship.”

In particular, Sanders said he would expand Obama’s 2012 executive action to allow the parents of DREAMers, or undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children, to stay in the country.

Like Clinton, Sanders’ proposal would go further than Obama on immigration. That position raises legal questions because a federal judge earlier this year temporarily blocked Obama’s executive action.

“We cannot, and we should not, be talking about sweeping up millions of men, women and children, many of whom have been in this country for years,” Sanders said Friday. “And we cannot allow a continuation of this ridiculous idea that suddenly we are going to throw millions of people out of this country. That is wrong and that type of discussion must end now.”

Last month, Clinton called for a “path to full and equal citizenship” to undocumented immigrants and accused the entire GOP field of seeking to relegate immigrants to “second-class status.”

“I’m ready to have this discussion with anyone, anywhere, anytime,” she said, adding that she would also “go even further” than Obama has gone.

Sanders’ outspokenness on immigration is new. Until recently, the issue was not something he addressed in his presidential stump speech. When he kicked off his campaign earlier this year on the shores of Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont, his 3,509-word speech did not mention immigration.

And while he backed the failed 2013 immigration reform law, he voted against a 2007 immigration push.

But on Friday, Sanders brought his usually blunt and direct style to immigration and used his history, as the son of an immigrant, to frame his position.

Sanders told the audience that he was the son of an immigrant who worked hard to ensure that he and his brother could be the first two members of his family to go to college.

“Brothers and sisters,” he said to loud applause, “their story, my story, our story, is the story of America and we should be proud of that story.”