WASHINGTON (AP) – Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders vowed Tuesday to create a "humane" immigration system and said if elected he would expand upon President Barack Obama's executive actions within the first 100 days of assuming the presidency.
The Vermont senator said he would allow all undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for at least five years to stay in the country without fear of being deported. He said nearly 9 million people would be covered by his actions.
"We have an obligation to enact policies that unite families, not tear them apart," Sanders said in a statement announcing the plan.
Immigration has taken a leading role in the Democratic presidential campaign as Hillary Rodham Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Sanders have appealed to the party's growing segment of Latino voters. The candidates have suggested the Obama administration has been too aggressive in deporting people living in the U.S. illegally.
Sanders' proposal came days after the Obama administration filed an appeal to the Supreme Court to review its plan to shield from deportation millions of immigrants who are in the country illegally. The Obama executive actions were aimed at protecting and giving work permits to as many as 5 million immigrants but federal courts have blocked the executive actions following a lawsuit by a group of mostly Republican-led states.
The senator's proposal is rooted in pursuing executive actions without waiting for Congress to overhaul the nation's immigration system, steps his campaign said would provide relief to nearly 9 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.
Sanders would press Congress, his campaign said, to change immigration laws if he was elected president and would seek a 5-year pathway to citizenship for people living in the U.S. illegally.
He would attempt to decouple the enforcement of federal immigration laws by local police "to stop cops being viewed by the community as deportation agents."
And he would seek to push back against the "militarization" of the U.S. Southern border and devote resources toward reducing border deaths and making U.S. Customs and Border protection more accountable, his campaign said.
Clinton said earlier on Facebook that her recent use of the term "illegal immigrants" at a New Hampshire town hall was a "poor choice of words." In his immigration platform, Sanders refers to people living in the U.S. illegally as "aspiring Americans."