Sen. Bernie Sanders raised a sweeping approach to immigration policy at the Democratic debate on Tuesday night: bringing together the countries most impacted for a hemispheric summit.
“What we will do, the first week we are in the White House, is bring the entire hemisphere together to talk about how we rebuild Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador so people do not have to flee their own countries,” he said.
“The main point I want to make is that what Trump is doing, through his racism and xenophobia, is demonizing a group of people. And as president, I will end that demonization. If a mother and a child walk thousands of miles on a dangerous path in my view they are not criminals, they are people fleeing violence,” he added.
Most immigrants entering this country illegally and seeking asylum at the United States’ southern border are from those three Central American countries. Those countries, known as the Northern Triangle, are plagued by gang violence and criminal activity. Because those countries’ governments struggle to provide basic safety, migrants have fled them by the thousands, heading through Mexico to the United States.
The immigration issue largely unites Democrats, though the candidates sparred amiably over the question of whether undocumented immigrants should receive government-funded healthcare and whether entering the U.S. illegally should be a civil infraction or a crime.
“Right now if you want to come into the country, you should at least ring the doorbell,” said Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan.
While the issue may not present sharp contrasts on the Democratic primary stage, it will be central in the general election. President Donald Trump made his hardline immigration stance a defining part of his candidacy, and has focused on keeping those commitments as president. And though Mexico has yet to pay for the wall, his zero-tolerance policy that separated parents from their children at the border has galvanized the Democratic base and also deeply concerned many independent voters.