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Clinton and Sanders spar over deporting immigrant children.

Both the Democratic candidates have come out in support of comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship. But Thursday’s debate exposed a clear difference in immigration policy.

In a combative exchange, Bernie Sanders reiterated his refusal to deport children to the “horrendously violent areas of Honduras and neighboring countries” they are now fleeing in record numbers. Clinton, on the other hand, said that while she was against the Obama administration’s “inhumane” deportation raids, she would not come out against child deportation in general, preferring instead to back a proposal currently being put forward in Congress to provide undocumented minors guaranteed legal services, a right they do not currently enjoy. “We should be deporting criminals, not hard-working immigrant families,” she said. 

What’s striking about her response is not simply the willingness to ship children back to a region mired in conflict-level bloodshed. It’s her insistence on sticking to the very tough-on crime pose that helped foster the present situation in the first place. Especially in El Salvador, today’s gang violence directly stems from the Clinton-era policy of aggressively deporting felons.