Bernie Sanders addresses Latino elected officials, avoids mention of Hillary Clinton

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders addressed Latino policymakers at an event that his rival for the nomination, Hillary Clinton, skipped, but he made no mention of the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party.

Instead, he hit hard on presumptive Republican nominee Donald ‎Trump's position on immigration in front of one of the nation's most influential Latino groups, the National Association of Legislative and Elected Officials (NALEO).

“I had hoped, and I think most Americans had hoped, that by the year 2016 we would be beyond having candidates [who] make bigotry the cornerstone of their campaigns," Sanders said at NALEO’s annual gathering.

When the U.S. Senator from Vermont said that he didn’t believe American voters would elect a candidate who "insults Mexicans, and Latinos," the group of several hundred, many of whom are local lawmakers, clapped loudly.

Sanders also described that while campaigning across the country he has encountered "fear" among immigrant families while he has campaigned across the country – a fear of families being deported and broken apart.

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"I have been moved and struck by fear," Sanders said.

While the presumptive nominees of both parties were invited to speak at the NALEO gathering, only Sanders and Libertarian party presidential nominee, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, accepted.

Arturo Vargas‎, NALEO’s executive director, said the fact that both presumptive major party nominees declined to attend was a slight to Latino leaders.

"The fact that the presumptive nominees are not here is an affront to the Latino leadership," Vargas told Fox News Latino. "These are the men and women on the front line of America's challenges, and to not have the person who wants to be the next president of the United States take a walk and not be here‎? [It] is an affront."

President Barack Obama attended the meeting in 2012 and four year earlier as the presumptive Democratic nominee. His Republican opponents John McCain and Mitt Romney also attended the meeting when they were running for the White House.

During the tumultuous primary season of 2016, Clinton has relied on the strong support of Latino voters in crucial primaries and battleground states like California, Florida and New Mexico.

‎"Secretary Clinton's absence today is a colossal missed opportunity‎," Vargas said in an interview with FNL.

Vargas added this was especially problematic in light of the Orlando attack, where a gunman killed 49 people, mostly Latinos, at a gay nightclub.

"This is the first national meeting since the Orlando massacre." Vargas said. "People here want answers about what the next president of the United states is going to do to work with (Latino leaders) to make sure we not only keep everybody safe, but move this country forward."

The former Secretary of State has spoken at NALEO conferences in previous years, and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) announced Thursday afternoon that Clinton would be the keynote speaker of its 2016 National Convention in July.

Vargas also said that Trump was missing a unique chance to speak to this group of Hispanic officials, many of whom come from border states.

‎"This would have been his opportunity to explain himself about what he means when he says that 'Hispanics love him,' and what he means about his policy towards the U.S. and Mexico. This would have been the opportunity," Vargas said.

Three of the highest-ranked Latino officials in D.C. – Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Labor Secretary Tom Perez – all mentioned as potential running mates for Clinton, are scheduled to speak Thursday at the conference.