DHS deportation plan gives Clinton's rivals an opening

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley
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President Obama's reported plan to deport hundreds of illegal immigrants have exposed his party's leading presidential candidate, Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonHannity tells Trump: I'm voting for you in November McConnell: ‘Ticket-splitting’ will preserve GOP Senate majority Romney signals interest in independent candidate MORE, to attacks from her left. 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is planning to launch a series of raids in January that will target families who crossed the southern border in the “immigration surge” early last year, according to The Washington Post.

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Clinton's rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersClinton allies see big boost from Brown endorsement The Trail 2016: Biting the hand that feeds him Budowsky: The campaign from hell MORE (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, were quick to condemn the plan.

“I am very disturbed by reports that the government may commence raids to deport families who have fled here to escape violence in Central America," Sanders said in a statement.

"As we spend time with our families this holiday season, we who are parents should ask ourselves what we would do if our children faced the danger and violence these children do? How far would we go to protect them?"

O’Malley was similarly critical. “We are a better nation than this," he tweeted.

"I call on other Presidential candidates to do as I did then: speak out against sending refugees back into harm’s way and ensure that our country offers them refuge," O’Malley added in a statement.

But as her rivals issued denunciations, Clinton remained silent through the morning, only issuing a cautious statement of "concerns" about the plan in the afternoon. The statement came through a spokeswoman. 

"Hillary Clinton has real concerns about these reports, especially as families are coming together during this holiday season,” Clinton's spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement.

"She believes it is critical that everyone has a full and fair hearing, and that our country provides refuge to those that need it. And we should be guided by a spirit of humanity and generosity as we approach these issues."

Clinton is usually quick to comment on policy areas where she feels in tune with her party's base, including on gun violence and sexism. But the deportation issue is tricky for the former secretary of State. 

Back before she launched her presidential bid, Clinton had expressed strong support for deporting children back to Central America to stem what was at the time a wave of immigrants pouring across the border. 

While Clinton at the time said more resources should be devoted to detention centers, she also said deporting the children would send a “responsible message” to the parents who were sending them over the border.

O'Malley's deputy campaign manager Lis Smith on Thursday highlighted Clinton's previous remarks.

"Pretty tough to walk these back," Smith tweeted to The Hill, linking to two stories covering comments Clinton made last year in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour. 

"We have to send a clear message, just because your child gets across the border, that doesn't mean the child gets to stay," Clinton told Amanpour.

According to The Post, the illegal immigrants targeted for deportation will be adults and children who have already been ordered by an immigration judge to be removed from the U.S.

The deportations, reportedly pushed by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, are said to have been hotly debated within the Obama administration. The DHS has reportedly yet to give final approval.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents will reportedly be leading the operation, creating a new flashpoint on immigration in the presidential race.

On the Republican side, leading contenders Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHannity tells Trump: I'm voting for you in November McConnell: ‘Ticket-splitting’ will preserve GOP Senate majority Romney signals interest in independent candidate MORE and Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzJudge unseals documents on Trump University GOP senators move to keep women out of military draft GOP senators split over Cruz's aid on campaign trail MORE (R-Texas) have promised to build a giant wall along the southern border, deport illegal immigrants and block the acceptance of Syrian refugees into the U.S. 

Meanwhile, President Obama's attempts to use executive actions to shield as many as 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation have been held up in the courts.

Clinton has endorsed a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and pledged to expand on Obama’s executive actions if she wins the White House. 

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