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Sanders, Clinton Face Immigration Questions At Nevada Town Hall


Tomorrow, Saturday, Democrats hold presidential caucuses in Nevada. Latino voters there pressed the candidates on immigration last night in a forum on MSNBC and Telemundo. Here's NPR's Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: This was a forum, not a debate, so Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton didn't appear on stage together. But they did answer some of the same questions, which means, through the magic of radio, we can create that side-by-side comparison. Sanders went first. And when the topic turned to immigration, he got a question from a woman who's part of what's known as a mixed-status family.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I'm an American citizen. My girl's an American citizen. My husband was here 18 years. I tried to bring them out of the shadows, how you said, and I petitioned him, and they gave him a 10-year bar. He's been in Mexico doing his 10 years. Six years now we've been separated.

KEITH: What she's describing is a feature of the current immigration system known as the three-10-year bar. If someone is in the country illegally, they have to leave in order to apply for a green card. But once they leave, they're require to stay out of the U.S. for either three or 10 years.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: What would you do...

BERNIE SANDERS: I'll tell you what I would do.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: ...To bring my husband home?

SANDERS: What you just described is unacceptable and should not be happening. My immigration policy is to unite families, not to divide families.

KEITH: She pressed further.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: When you get there, how long would it take to change those policies? Because I've been waiting six years...

SANDERS: Well, I, you know...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: ...Six years out of my life.

SANDERS: That I cannot - well, I can't, you know - we will use our executive office and power as much as we can. Hopefully, we'll have the cooperation of the United States Congress.

KEITH: When it was Clinton's turn on stage, it was clear she wanted a bite at that question, too.


HILLARY CLINTON: And I want to tell you, I will end the three- and 10-year bar provision so that you...


KEITH: Moderator Jose Diaz-Balart followed up.


JOSE DIAZ-BALART: Just very quickly, how would you go about cutting out those three- and 10-year proposals? How would you do that?


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: And how long would it take...

DIAZ-BALART: And how long would it take you to do?

CLINTON: It does have to be done legislatively. I would do it on two paths. I would do it on a separate piece of legislation and part of comprehensive immigration reform.

KEITH: And it's possible. Unlike the more controversial aspects of immigration reform, changing this provision actually has bipartisan support. But both candidates were also asked how long it would take to get broader immigration reform, like the 2013 bill that passed the Senate but wasn't taken up by the House. Here's moderator Chuck Todd.


CHUCK TODD: How quickly are you going to get immigration reform done as president...

SANDERS: It is a top priority.

TODD: What does that mean, first 100 days, yeah.

SANDERS: Well, no, Chuck, I - you know, I'm not a dictator here.

TODD: (Laughter).

SANDERS: It has to do with a little bit of cooperation from the Congress. But it is a major priority.

KEITH: Diaz-Balart put the same question to Clinton.


DIAZ-BALART: Do you promise to deal with immigration reform within the first 100 days?

CLINTON: Absolutely. And we're going to introduce legislation, Jose. We are absolutely going to introduce legislation. I'm going to call everybody on the committee, Democrats and Republicans alike, Gary.

DIAZ-BALART: Within 100 days.

CLINTON: Yeah, I'm going to introduce my priority legislation, and this is at the top of that list.

KEITH: Both campaigns criticized their opponents for past remarks about immigration, votes taken, positions changed. But in terms of what they're saying right now, the differences between Clinton and Sanders are more in tone and level of detail than in substance or goals. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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