Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Tuesday unveiled an immigration plan to "keep families together" and reform militarization of border communities, an announcement that rights activists heralded as "the most detailed and progressive" blueprint from any U.S. 2016 presidential candidate.
"Millions of families are torn apart by our broken immigration policies," Sanders said Tuesday. "We cannot forget about the aspiring Americans who continue to live in the shadows."
The plan focuses on eight action points, which aim to:
- Dismantle inhumane deportation programs and private detention centers.
- Offer humane treatment and asylum to victims of domestic violence and minors fleeing from dangerous circumstances in Latin America.
- End policies that discriminate against women and ensure that mothers and wives who come into the United States with their families have the same right to work as their partners.
- Pave the way for a swift legislative path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.
- Close loopholes that allow federal agencies to use racial and ethnic profiling at the border.
- Ensure our border remains secure and protects local communities.
- Make it easier for immigrants to access the judicial system.
- Increase oversight of key Department of Homeland Security agencies to guard against waste, fraud and abuse.
Under this plan, which Sanders said he would implement with or without congressional action if he were elected president, close to 9 million undocumented immigrants would be able to apply for U.S. citizenship.
Hina Naveed, co-director of the advocacy group Dream Action Coalition, told the Las Vegas Sun Tuesday that the plan would also "end the expensive contracts we have with immigrant detention centers, as well as the highly controversial bed quota that guarantees them business at all of our expense."
"These are large points of difference and will have a huge impact on the day-to-day lives of diverse, mixed-status families," Naveed said. "We have seen large numbers of our community thrown behind bars as immigrants have been harshly criminalized, often for something as minor as a traffic ticket in jurisdictions where local police enforce federal immigration law."
The plan also builds on an executive order issued by President Barack Obama in 2014, which aimed to protect 5 million people from deportation.
Earlier this month, immigrant rights activists marked the one-year anniversary of that order by issuing their own action recommendations and calling for urgent reform of current policies.
On Wednesday, advocacy group United We Dream (UWD) praised Sanders' plan for meeting almost all of their five demands, calling it "the most detailed and progressive immigration plan of any candidate thus far."
"It is a testament to the power of the immigrant movement that the Sanders campaign is delivering more than talking points and values statements on how they would work for the liberation of our community," said UWD advocacy coordinator Greisa Martinez. "We hope that in the coming weeks, the Sanders campaign will improve their plan by saying how they would hold ICE agents accountable, in addition to the Border Patrol accountability measures included in the plan now and tell us how he plans on making the plan real."
Sanders issued his proposal ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday to challenge Americans to "reflect on the fact that not all families will be so lucky."
"I will not stand idly by waiting around for a dysfunctional Congress to act," Sanders said. "Instead, during the first 100 days of my administration I will take extensive action to accomplish what Congress has failed to do and to build upon President Obama’s executive orders."
He concluded, "We have an obligation to enact policies that unite families, not tear them apart."