DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley used a liberal forum in Iowa on Saturday to rail against holiday-season raids seeking Central American immigrants for deportation.
Before about 1,000 people packed into a Des Moines church, Sanders said that while he works closely with President Barack Obama, "I do not agree with him on his policy toward deportation." And O'Malley bemoaned the timing of the raids, stating that "Jesus himself was a refugee child."
Both candidates had previously criticized the raids, which first became public when The Washington Post published a story about the plans just before Christmas.
The White House defended the policies Friday. Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said the raids reflected the administration's top priorities for deportation — people with criminal convictions and people caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. But critics said the searches were ill-timed and disruptive for families.
Offering support for comprehensive immigration reform at the Putting Families First Presidential Forum, Sanders and O'Malley also slammed Republican front-runner Donald Trump over his statements about Muslims. O'Malley, a former governor of Maryland, called Trump an "immigrant-bashing carnival barker."
Sanders, a U.S. senator for Vermont, said he would "do everything I can to stand up to the Donald Trumps of the world and their bigotry and their xenophobia."
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leads the polls in the leadoff caucus state, with Sanders coming in second and O'Malley lagging far behind. Clinton did not attend the forum.
In a statement released after the plan became public, Clinton spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said Clinton "believes the United States should give refuge to people fleeing persecution. ... She believes we should not be conducting large-scale raids and roundups that sow fear and division in our communities."
Clinton has campaigned heavily in Iowa, but some in the crowd of liberal activists were not pleased that she did not join them. At one point some people began to chant "Where is Clinton?"
Sanders and O'Malley both offered a variety of proposals to support the middle class. O'Malley pledged to increase federal investment in transportation and affordable housing. Sanders said he'd like to see basic banking services offered at post offices to help people avoid predatory lending.