Sanders could be the anti-Trump, but he isn’t yet

One year after the president announced new immigration policy, the issue is now being addressed in the context of the upcoming elections. Where Republicans have again chosen to be the party of self-deportation, Democrats have done little but stake the claim of being “not Trump.”  But for any Democratic candidate to claim to be an ally to immigrants, they need to do more than contrast with the frontrunner who has made Operation Wetback the core of his program. They need to also differentiate from the past seven years of policy crafted by their own party that led to mass deportations and offer a vision for actual just policy. 

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSanders thanks Iowa voters for giving momentum to progressive agenda Manchin wrestles with progressive backlash in West Virginia Arizona newspaper backs Democrat in dead heat Senate race MORE can meet with DREAMers and promise she will expand executive relief in one forum. But when she calls for increased spending on a border wall and calls us “illegals” in another, she’s showing she is neither our ally nor our champion. Meanwhile, if Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSanders thanks Iowa voters for giving momentum to progressive agenda Live coverage: Gillum clashes with DeSantis in Florida debate Miami Herald endorses Gillum for governor MORE (I-Vt.) can give a speech on socialism in America, he should also be able to advance a real migrant rights platform.  His current role in this race is to offer a left pole in the debate, to require that other Democratic candidates answer to a truly progressive agenda and to demonstrate that real alternatives are possible.

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If Trump is dragging the debate on immigration to an unjust extreme, Sanders should be an easy counter in the opposite direction, but so far he hasn’t been. Instead of leading with vision on the issue, he’s played to the center, using the compromise Senate Bill 744, crafted with 14 Republicans, as a standard. His hiring undocumented staff is a positive step but, like the immigrant rights movement as a whole, we need his campaign to represent and benefit all of us, not just our most sympathetic characters. 

When the bar has been lowered so far, anything can look like up. But for a migrant rights movement that has endured so much suffering and has still stayed determined to keep our heads raised and define our own dignity, the crumbs we are being thrown look just like that. 

Despite what conservative judges have to say, executive power on immigration is broad and far-reaching.  It is what primarily what created the massive dragnet and it can be what dismantles it as well. The current criminalization of migrants as we know it today is in fact only 20 years old.  The current deportation programs are old enough to be proven as failed experiments and young enough to be easily terminated.

Any candidate who wants to be an ally to immigrants will need more than Beltway talking points and an absence of hate speech from their platforms. At a minimum, candidates would champion: 

1.    An Immediate Moratorium on Deportations.  People who could have been made citizens yesterday shouldn’t be deportees tomorrow, regardless of who their families are and how they have been caught up in the net of rampant criminalization. The next President should refuse to persecute not just parents of citizens or parents of immigrant youth who have already received deferred action, but everyone who is waiting for Washington to provide real relief. 

2.    An End to All Detention. Stopping private prisons is not enough to address the abuse of detention when corporations run only a percentage of the federal government’s ballooning detention system.  Detention itself is both unnecessary and inhumane and those whose safety is threatened by being subjected to it should be released immediately.

 3.    Dismantling ICE Access and Police Collaboration Programs. Started while Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonConservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign Sen. Walter Huddleston was a reminder that immigration used to be a bipartisan issue No, civility isn't optional MORE was in office, grossly expanded under George W. Bush and then put into hyper-drive by the Obama administration, program’s such as Secure Communities, 287g, and now PEPCOMM which conscript police into being deportation agents serve to criminalize and profile immigrants but do little else other than aid authorities in meeting their deportation quota.

4.    Repeal 1996 Immigration laws (AEDPA and IIRIRA). It was only twenty years ago, as free trade agreements facilitated commerce crossing borders, laws were signed creating mandatory detention and multi-year bans for the human beings who did the same.

5.    Demilitarize the border. Simply put, the Southern border has been made into a death trap in the name of deterrence. It encroaches on indigenous people’s sovereignty, causes ecological destruction, and serves not to prevent migration but to cause hundreds of avoidable deaths every year. 

A candidate can’t be considered a progressive on poverty, climate, or foreign policy without fully addressing the displacement and migration that the three phenomena cause. If Sanders is running to move the debate in the right direction, he has his opportunity in front of him, but on immigration, he hasn’t done it yet.

Garcia is the director of the Puente Human Rights Movement in Phoenix, Arizona