Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders promised Monday to begin taking executive action on immigration reform during the first 100 days of his presidency, including sweeping deportation relief that would go beyond the policies of President Barack Obama.
"To the degree that Congress is unable to act, it is clear to me that the president of the United States has got to use the powers that are in his province," he said in Las Vegas at a forum hosted by the advocacy group Fair Immigration Reform Movement and the magazine The Nation.
The Vermont independent senator has been increasing his efforts to win over the Latino community, which largely supports immigration reform and ranks it as a higher priority -- although not usually the highest priority -- than voters at large. Though he hasn't traditionally been a major voice on immigration reform, Sanders promised to take bold action should he win the presidency. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who are also seeking the nomination, have pledged to act as well.
Sanders promised Sunday at a Las Vegas rally to end "the excessively wasteful $18 million deportation regime." He echoed that promise on Monday, saying he would direct Immigration and Customs Enforcement "to immediately stop initiating deportations against" certain undocumented immigrants. He also pledged to shut down private detention centers, after he introduced a bill last month that would end private prison contracts with the government.
Sanders also said he would expand on Obama's deferred actions programs for undocumented young people and parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. That might be difficult -- although the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, is currently operating, the 2014 executive actions by Obama are blocked in the courts, continuing to put eligible parents at risk of deportation despite the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program, or DAPA.
Sanders said if he were president, DACA and DAPA would be supplemented by deportation relief for parents of DACA recipients, along with other family members and anyone who would have been eligible for legal status under the 2013 immigration reform bill that passed the Senate but never got a vote in the House.
Victims of domestic violence and unaccompanied minors who came to the U.S. from Central America would be considered a distinct group for purposes of asylum, Sanders said, a policy that could make it easier for them to remain in the U.S.
"This is the just and moral thing to do," he said.
Finally, Sanders said he would ensure that women who come to the U.S. with their husbands would be able to work even if they entered because of their spouse's work visa, something many are not currently allowed to do.
Sanders said he will be releasing broader immigration policies in the coming days.
The candidate's executive action announcements were broadly similar to those of O'Malley and Clinton, although O'Malley frequently notes that he was the first to put out an immigration platform and has the most executive experience on those issues.
All three candidates have said they would expand Obama's deportation relief policies and push for comprehensive immigration reform.
O'Malley spoke at the Fair Immigration Reform Movement and The Nation forum on Sunday, and criticized Sanders and Clinton after the event.
"I think one has to ask, is this a priority for the two of them because it’s an election year or if it’s because something they truly believe in?” O’Malley said at a press conference, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
All of the GOP candidates oppose Obama's executive actions on immigration, and have pledged to end the DACA and DAPA programs.