Published: April 27, 2016

U.S. Presidential Candidates on Immigration (May, 2016)
✓  indicates support
✗  indicates opposition
~  indicates ambiguity
Hillary Clinton
Bernie Sanders
Donald Trump
Donald J.
“The Wall”   
Increasing Deportations   
Citizenship    ~
Health Care    ~
Expanding Legal Immigration   

From left to right, photos courtesy of Kamil Kryzaczynski, EPA; Alex Wong, Getty Images; and Gage Skidmore. Table by Max Levy.

With the end of primary season in sight, voters in undecided states should be thinking about where each of the candidates stands on issues like immigration.

It may not be the same stance they had several months ago.

Since the Iowa caucuses in February, the field has narrowed considerably, especially in the Republican Party, where a nominee was selected just this week. Meanwhile, those leading the polls have had time to develop their policy platforms in response to public scrutiny.

From the wall-rhetoric of Trump to the pro-DREAM Act promises of Clinton and Sanders, finding a “solution” to America’s immigration problems has become the hot-button issue in the 2016 race for the White House.

Here’s where the remaining candidates stand on immigration:

Hillary Clinton

Clinton has been widely favored to emerge as the Democratic nominee since she first announced her campaign in April of last year. As of now, she holds a lead of 290 pledged delegates and 484 superdelegates.

Many pundits attribute her success to the Clinton name and it’s salience among minority voters, but she’s also seen as more politically savvy than her opponent, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. Conservative Democrats are more likely to support her as well, which may explain her sweep of Southern states in March.

Despite the Obama administration’s checkered history of immigration enforcement, Hillary Clinton has been an outspoken supporter of both DACA and DAPA, which would allow the government to grant de facto legal status to certain classes of undocumented immigrants, as well as the DREAM Act, which would offer a path to legal residency and has yet to pass the Senate.

As the Clinton campaign has developed, her views on immigration have curved left to approach those of Sanders and Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, who suspended his presidential bid in February.

A notable example of this came last month, when she reversed her stance on deporting child migrants. Previously, Clinton had indicated that she would use deportation as a way to dissuade Central and South American children from attempting the dangerous journey north.

In response to questions from moderator Jorge Ramos at the May 9 Democratic debate, Clinton claimed that she would not deport undocumented children. She added that she would only deport those immigrants with criminal backgrounds.

Clinton is unapologetic about voting “Yea” on the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which called for 700 miles of fencing to be constructed along the U.S.-Mexico border. The barrier was never completed, much to the chagrin of Senate Republicans.

Clinton, however, claims that the border has been sufficiently secured, and that it is time to shift national focus towards comprehensive immigration reform.

Extending services such as health care to undocumented immigrants, especially children, is another one of Clinton’s stated presidential objectives.

During a CNN interview in late March, Clinton said that undocumented immigrants should be able to access plans under the Affordable Care Act, though she stopped short of proposing eligibility for taxpayer-funded subsidies.

At the first Democratic debate in October, she stated that she wanted to make sure all children had access to health care, including those without documentation.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, affected in 1994, is often blamed for the decline of Mexican agriculture and the rise of undocumented immigration from Mexico to the United States. While Clinton voiced support for NAFTA during her husband’s presidency, she has since criticized the agreement and its Central American analogue, CAFTA.

The positions of Clinton and Sanders on immigration in general and the consequences of undocumented immigration in particular are very similar. But, while Sanders has been relatively consistent with his policy platform during his tenure as a politician, Clinton has become more liberal over time.

What impact this would have on a Clinton presidency is open to interpretation.

Potent Quotables

  • “We could add hundreds of billions of dollars to our GDP by passing comprehensive immigration reform.”
    Speech at National Immigration Integration Conference — Dec. 14, 2015

Bernie Sanders

Sanders has been polling neck and neck with Clinton for most of the 2016 primary season, at times even edging out his rival, though his viability as a candidate took a wallop on Apr. 19 with a wide loss in his birth state of New York.

The senator began his campaign on Apr. 30 of last year and has since seen unprecedented success among working-class whites and youth voters. However, his lack of support among blacks and the elderly have dogged his numbers throughout the race, much to Sanders’ bafflement.

According to a recent Gallup poll, the Hispanic vote could swing either way.

Sanders has stated that he does not think a border fence is necessary for border security, voting against the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Instead, he advocates for the allocation of funds towards border surveillance and amnesty programs. He also co-sponsored the DREAM Act when it was reintroduced in the Senate in 2011.

When asked during the Mar. 9 debate, Sanders said that he would not deport undocumented immigrants unless they had criminal records.

Along with his opponent, Sanders would support “sanctuary city” laws, which prevent municipal workers and police from asking after immigration status in places like Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C.

Sanders stated that, in the likely event of immigration reform stalling in Congress, he would use executive actions to advance his objectives, much like Obama did with DACA and DAPA, which Sanders vows to expand.

Clarifying a path to citizenship could be one of the issues Sanders chooses to enforce using his executive powers as president. He has pushed for citizenship since the start of his campaign, laying the groundwork for his reputation as the most liberal of the Democratic candidates.

After releasing his health care proposal in January, Sanders’ senior policy adviser Warren Gunnels confirmed that undocumented immigrants would be given access to plans in the ACA marketplace.

One issue where the policies of Clinton and Sanders diverge is work visas. Sanders has voted down immigration reform proposals in the past for their failure to include protections for guest-workers. Notably, in 2007, Sanders voted to block the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, which would have codified a path to citizenship while expanding certain visa programs.

Clinton criticized Sanders’ rejection of the bill at a Feb. 11 debate, prior to Super Tuesday.

“Yeah, I did vote against it,” he answered. “I voted against it because the Southern Poverty Law Center said that the guest-worker programs that were embedded in this agreement were akin to slavery.”

The programs in question included the H-2 and proposed Y visas. Sanders has faced criticism for siding with labor unions to restrict immigration in the past, arguing that guest worker programs depress wages for Americans.

In a 2007 interview with CNN’s Lou Dobbs, he insisted that an influx of guest workers would “drive wages down even lower than they are now.”

Sanders proposes increasing the wages for H-1B visa holders in his immigration platform.

One program put forth by Sanders is the so-called “whistleblower visa,” which would be granted to guest-workers who report employer abuse.

In a primary race where the Democratic candidates have such similar stances on immigration, work visas could be a deciding issue for concerned voters.

Potent Quotables

  • “Senator Sanders rejects the argument that the border must be further militarized before the implementation of a roadmap to citizenship.”
    “A Fair and Humane Immigration Policy” — Accessed May 6, 2016
  • “What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them.”
    Interview w/ Vox’s Ezra Klein — Jul. 16, 2015

Donald J. Trump

The extensive coverage given to Trump’s campaign by major media outlets may explain why immigration has become such an issue in the 2016 presidential race, especially among Republican voters.

76 percent of Republicans say that a candidate’s stance on immigration is very or extremely important to them, compared to 62 percent of Democrats, according to a February Gallup poll.

Trump’s characterization of undocumented immigrants as drug runners, rapists and undesirables foisted upon the American people by the Mexican government began when he first announced his bid for president in June 2015.

His in-your-face campaign style and image as a Washington outsider have garnered him support among blue-collar voters, and helped propel him to the nomination in early May.

Trump has voiced support for completing and reinforcing a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border since the publication of his 2011 book, “Time to Get Tough,” in which he advocates for a triple-layered border fence, surveilled by Predator drones and 25,000 additional Border Patrol agents.

In his campaign announcement speech, Trump reiterated this point and added that he would force Mexico pay for the wall.

Trump was initially hesitant to discuss how he would force Mexico to pay for the wall, but has since said that he would stop undocumented immigrants from sending their wages south. Remittances, as these payments are called, make up about 1.9 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product, according to a 2014 estimate by World Bank.

The payments are a vital source of income for many Mexican families living in poor agrarian communities.

Trump has said that he is committed to increasing deportations and ending birthright citizenship. However, he has been unclear on whether he would target all U.S. residents lacking proper documentation, or exclusively those who entered the country without permission.

In a February debate, Trump said that he would deport the “11 million people that came in illegally.”

The likely source of this figure, a 2012 estimate by the Department of Homeland Security, accounts for all unauthorized U.S. residents, including U.S.-born children whose parents failed to register them as citizens and guest-workers who have overstayed the terms of their visas.

Trump has said that he would deport all “criminal aliens,” as well as individuals apprehended at unauthorized border crossings.

He has also said that he would allow certain deportees to return to the U.S. after a lengthy processing period.

In his earlier book, “The America We Deserve,” Trump has this to say on the legal immigration process: “Legal immigrants do not and should not enter easily. It’s a long, costly, draining, and often frustrating experience by design. I say to legal immigrants: welcome, and good luck.”

Although Trump has not spoken specifically about the prospect of supplying health care to undocumented immigrants, his stance on deportations and adamant opposition to the ACA make any extension of public health programs to immigrants under his presidency unlikely.

Trump has argued for restrictions on visa programs like H-1B. On his campaign’s website, he argues that base wages for H-1B visa holders need to be increased to protect Americans working in STEM fields.

He also says that he will implement an electronic visa monitoring system and impose criminal penalties on those who overstay their visas.

This and his planned requirement for companies to hire unemployed Americans before looking outside of the country for work contrast with his own utilization of H1-B labor, which he admitted to at a debate in March.

“It’s something that I frankly use and I shouldn’t be allowed to use it,” he said. “We shouldn’t have it. Very, very bad for workers.”

“Second of all, I think it’s very important to say, ‘Well, I’m a businessman and I have to do what I have to do,'” he added.

Potent Quotables

  • “I declare: I’m not gonna pay for that f‐‐‐‐‐‐ wall.”
    Former Mexican President Vicente Fox, Interview w/ Jorge Ramos — Feb. 25, 2016
  • “The wall just got 10 feet taller.”
    10th Republican Presidential Debate, Trump in re Fox — Feb. 25, 2016