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Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders spar over immigration issues

Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton, right, and Sen.

Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton, right, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, shake hands before the start of the Univision, Washington Post Democratic presidential debate at Miami-Dade College, Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in Miami, Fla. Credit: AP / Wilfredo Lee

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, debating before a Univision audience, criticized Republicans on immigration while trying to be the presidential candidate who would do the most to block deportations of children and provide a “pathway to citizenship” for undocumented workers already here.

Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, also had to field questions about trustworthiness, paid speeches and her private emails, as the Univision moderators put her more on the defensive than the Vermont senator.

“Oh, for goodness. That is not going to happen,” Clinton responded when a moderator asked if she thought she’d be indicted for using private email while serving as Secretary of State. “I’m not going to answer that question.”

But far and away immigration topics carried the final debate in Miami before the Democrats head into next Tuesday’s primaries in large-population states such as Florida, Ohio and Illinois. Clinton has garnered 1,221 delegates so far to Sanders’ 571.

In Republican debates, the candidates — especially GOP front-runner Donald Trump — at times pushed for mass deportation of undocumented workers in the United States. In contrast, the Univision panel asked Clinton and Sanders if they would promise not to deport children or undocumented immigrants who don’t have criminal records.

“My priority is to deport violent criminals, terrors and anyone who threatens our safety,” Clinton said. “Of the undocumented people who are living in our country, I do not want to see them deported. I want to see them on a path to citizenship . . . I would not deport children.”

Asked by panelist Jorge Ramos if she would follow President Barack Obama’s deportation policies — Ramos called the president the “deporter in chief” — Clinton said she wouldn’t push deportation as fervently.

“I am committed to introducing comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship within my first 100 days as president,” Clinton said.

Sanders accused Clinton of quibbling on the issue and said she previously opposed allowing Honduran children who were fleeing violence to remain in the United States.

Clinton tried to turn the argument back on Sanders, saying he voted against a comprehensive immigration bill in 2007 that would have provided “guest worker” status and that, further, he supported vigilantes patrolling the nation’s southern border. Sanders called that a “horrific statement,” and, in a segue about the automobile industry bailout, said he had a longer history of working for the working class.

“Madam Secretary, I will match my record against yours any day of the week,” Sanders said in one of the sharp exchanges.

The two Democrats took shots especially at Trump — prodded by a question about his promise to compel Mexico to build a tall wall along the United States’ southern border. Clinton called it “fantasy.”

Asked whether Trump was a racist, neither candidate quite bit on the question. Sanders said the nation should not “resort to racism, xenophobia and bigotry.” Clinton called Trump’s anti-immigrant comments “un-American.”

At one point, a moderator asked Clinton about polls that show a certain segment of the population don’t believe her to be trustworthy. Looking down and talking in measured tones, Clinton said that was “painful for me to hear.” But she said people should look at her record and know they can “count on me.”

“That is what happened in New York,” she said, referring to her tenure as a U.S. senator (2001-09). “People got to know me . . . saw me in action.”

Continuing, she added: “You know, this is not easy for me . . . I am not a natural politician, if you haven’t noticed, like my husband or President Obama.”

Sanders himself fielded tough questions when Univision showed a video of him praising the “revolution of values” in Cuba after Fidel Castro took over. Asked if he regretted the remarks, Sanders countered that the full context of the video showed that he was opposing the idea of the United States overthrowing leaders in Latin American nations.

Sensing an opening, Clinton pounced.

“If the values are that you oppress people, that you disappear people . . . you kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech — that is not the kind of revolution of values I ever want to see anywhere,” she said.

As at other debates, Sanders criticized Clinton for making paid speeches at Wall Street firms and not releasing the transcripts.

“When you get paid $225,000, that means that must have been an extraordinarily wonderful speech,” Sanders said. “I think you’d like to share it with the American people.”

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