Frontera Fund News

Hillary vs. Bernie on Immigration


In time for Arizona’s primary on March 22, the Lacey & Larkin Frontera Fund is shining a spotlight on the Democratic candidates’ immigration views.

Though Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have duked it out on the debate stage over guest worker programs and Minutemen, they share many views on immigration reform. But there are several differences – and many more uncertainties, as Sanders’ immigration plan is far more detailed than Clinton’s. Let’s look closer at some key issues.

Detention and Deportation

Both Sanders and Clinton say they will end family detention and the private, for-profit detention centers that have become black eyes on America’s immigration system.

Recently, both candidates promised not to deport children or undocumented immigrants who had not committed crimes. This marked a change from Clinton’s earlier stance on deporting Central American children.

In addition, Sanders’ plan states that he would stop the practice of dropping off deportees in unfamiliar and dangerous places. He also pledges to end Operation Streamline, expand access to legal counsel for immigrants, provide additional funding to immigration courts, increase the number of immigration judges, and guarantee due process. Clinton’s plan is not specific on these issues.

Border Security and Enforcement

Sanders is definitively against a border wall (“Bernie sees the importance of securing the border, but is opposed to building a fence to do so, and has voted repeatedly against legislation that would build such a barrier.”) He does support “high grade cameras, thermal imaging, movement sensors and other technologies.”

Clinton voted in support of building a border wall in 2006 but in 2008 somewhat changed her stance: “There is technology that can be used instead of a physical barrier… After a careful review, listening to the people who live along the border, there may be limited places where it would work. But let’s deploy more technology and personnel, instead of the physical barrier.”

Both candidates support “sanctuary city” policies that promote cooperation between immigrants and law enforcement. They also support separating the jobs of local law enforcement and federal immigration officials.

Sanders says he “will require CBP agents to wear body cameras, make complaints public, expand training, and hold agents accountable for excessive force just like any other law enforcement agency.” (Customs and Border Protection has previously refused to require its officers to wear body cameras.) Clinton has not publicly taken a stand on this issue; however, she has called for police officers to wear body cameras.

DACA/DREAMers and Undocumented Families

Both Clinton and Sanders support DACA and DAPA. 

Clinton’s plan says she will “Defend [DACA and DAPA] and… if Congress continues its refusal to act on comprehensive immigration reform, Hillary will put in place a simple, straightforward, accessible system for parents of DREAMers and others with a history of service and contribution to their communities to be able to make their case and be eligible for deferred action as well.”

Sanders says he will “Expand DACA and DAPA… to provide broad administrative relief to the parents of DREAMers, the parents of citizens, the parents of legal permanent residents, and other immigrants who would have been given legal protections by the 2013 Senate-passed immigration bill… This would allow all undocumented people who have been in the United States for at least five years to stay in the country without fear of being deported.”

Bernie adds that “Future legislation must immediately declare DREAMers eligible to serve in the uniformed services, receive financial aid, and become eligible for in-state tuition if they meet a state’s residency requirements. Additionally, future immigration reform should provide expeditious citizenship to DREAMers.”

In response to whether she supports providing in-state tuition to DREAMers, Hillary responded in a 2015 debate, “My plan would support any state that takes that position, and would work with those states and encourage more states to do the same.” 

Bernie also says he will reunite broken families by “expand[ing] the use of humanitarian parole to ensure the return of unjustly deported immigrants.”


Both Clinton and Sanders support a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. Both say they will address the high costs of immigration fees.

Bernie’s immigration plan calls for reducing the wait time for citizenship so aspiring Americans can become citizens within five years. He also says he will work to end the three-year, ten-year, and permanent bars immigrants endure when leaving the country to change their status.

Worker rights

Sanders has spoken out against guest worker programs, saying they exploit workers. He has in the past voted for and against bills containing guest worker provisions. His current immigration plan calls for higher wages for guest workers, and he says he “will work toward requiring employers to reimburse guest workers for housing, transportation expenses, and workers’ compensation.” Bernie also promises to “establish a whistleblower visa for workers reporting labor violations.”

Clinton has voted for a few bills that involve guest worker programs. She has, however, expressed concern over guest worker programs exploiting immigrants but said she would support forming an agricultural guest worker program to address farm worker shortages. Characteristically, she has been more willing to compromise on this issue to get bills passed than has Bernie. 

Health Care

Both Bernie and Hillary favor allowing undocumented immigrants to purchase health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

The Takeaway:

While the two candidates have criticized each other over their immigration voting records, it’s clear that both have become more pro-immigrant in the last few years, and even in the last few months. So arguably what’s more important than their past actions are their potential future actions. Both promise sweeping and positive immigration reform. Bernie’s immigration plan is more comprehensive and detailed than Hillary’s. But there’s a big difference between what a person promises and what they can accomplish – and that goes for both candidates.