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A group of "Dreamers," people who illegally immigrated to the United States as children, praised Sanders for criticizing President Obama's decision to put off executive action delaying more deportations. 

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Clinton, in contrast, refused to criticize the decision, when the activists confronted her on the rope line of an event in Des Moines.

“Unlike Hillary Clinton, Senator Sanders showed he understood the urgency to keep families together, though was still sensitive to the political complexity," Monica Reyes, one of the activists, said in a statement contrasting their comments.

Reyes introduced herself as an "Iowa dreamer" to Clinton at the rope line and then asked what she though of Obama's decision.

Clinton replied, "Well, I think we have to just keep working, can’t stop ever working."

Pressed on the issue, Clinton said, "You know, I think we have to elect more Democrats."

Sanders was in Iowa the same day as Clinton, speaking to more than 250 people in a church basement in Des Moines, The Des Moines Register reported, though that was a small fraction of the approximately 10,000 who filled a balloon field to hear Clinton.

Reyes asked Sanders the same question about Obama's executive action delay after cheers from the crowd when she introduced herself.

"As somebody who is a strong supporter of the dreamers, congratulations," Sanders replied. "I believe he should have acted. You know I think, again, his life is a difficult life. … You know there’s no particular reason to believe that the Republicans will do anything in the House, but should he do more with executive action? Yes, I think he should."

In her statement, Reyes criticized Clinton's reply to her question.

"The answer is not electing more Democrats: it is about having the political courage to protect and keep families together," Reyes said.

“The reality is that DREAMers and Latinos are not ready for Hillary, unless she can show real leadership on immigration. Will she be a real advocate for immigrants or another ‘deporter in chief.’ ” 

Another possible Clinton challenger, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has tried to get to Clinton's left on immigration as well. He urged the Hispanic National Bar Association last week to represent unaccompanied children at the border, and has criticized the Obama administration's handling of the surge of children, saying sending them back would mean "certain death."