A Fair and Humane Immigration Policy


We are a nation of immigrants. I am proud to be the son of an immigrant. My father came to this country from Poland without a nickel in his pocket. Their story, my story, our story is a story of America: hard-working families coming to the United States to create a brighter future for their children. But even as this tradition is carried on proudly by so many families all across the United States, we have eleven million people in this country who are undocumented – who came here to improve their lives, to escape oppression, to flee desperate poverty and violence – and are systematically shut out from that same opportunity.

In 2008, I traveled to the tomato fields of southern Florida and met with migrant workers who were paid starvation wages for backbreaking work and were being ruthlessly exploited. After the visit, I invited leaders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to Washington to testify during a Senate committee hearing regarding abusive labor practices. As a result of the tremendous grassroots effort of this coalition, working conditions in Immokalee improved and workers received a wage increase.

But how many more Immokalees are out there?

Many in the business community argue for a massive expansion of temporary guest worker programs. That is not the answer. As the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented, employers routinely cheat guest workers out of wages, hold employees captive by seizing documents, coerce workers to live in inhumane conditions, and deny medical treatment for on-the-job injuries.

It is time for this injustice to end.

We cannot and should not sweep up millions of men, women, and children – many of whom lived here for many years, contribute to our society, and are integrated into the fabric of American life – and throw them out of the country unjustly. It is categorically unacceptable that so many voices insisted that the large numbers of desperate, vulnerable, and unaccompanied children primarily from Central America who crossed our borders last year should be turned away and sent back to the countries they fled. Sadly, many of these same voices now advocate for the United States to turn our backs on desperate refugees fleeing violence and terrorism in Syria. Now is not the time for us to succumb to racism and bigotry. We cannot allow ourselves to be divided by the anti-immigrant and xenophobic hysteria that Republican presidential candidates are ginning up.

America has always been a haven for the oppressed. We cannot and must not shirk the historic role of the United States as a protector of vulnerable people fleeing persecution.

Establishing an immigration policy that stops the criminalization of communities of color and keeps families together must be a top priority. My immigration policy will put the sanctity of families at the forefront and will be grounded in civil, human, and labor rights. With bold action that moves our nation towards common sense immigration policies, we can reverse the decline of our middle class, allow the United States to compete economically in the 21st Century and build upon the best parts of our tradition of embracing diversity and harnessing it for the common good.

The Plan

In 2013, Senator Sanders voted for the comprehensive immigration reform bill that would have legalized millions of aspiring Americans. That legislation, however, contained a series of compromises that should now be rejected. A legislative solution to modernize our immigration system must be a top priority.

Unfortunately, our nation’s foreign policy towards Latin America has made difficult economic and political problems even worse. Supporters of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) claimed that unfettered free trade would increase the standard of living in Mexico and significantly reduce the flow of undocumented immigrants into this country. As history has demonstrated, the opposite is true. Since the implementation of NAFTA, the number of Mexicans living below the poverty line has increased by over 14 million. Not surprisingly we saw 185 percent increase in the number of undocumented immigrants from Mexico between 1992 and 2011.

A political revolution that mobilizes millions of Americans inclusive of Latinos and immigrants will ensure that Congress acts on what the majority of Americans demand – comprehensive and humane immigration reform policies.

Senator Sanders will fight to implement a humane and secure immigration policy that will:

1. Deportation and Detention

The growth of the immigrant detention/deportation machine and the expansion of border militarization has perpetuated unjust policies and resulted in the separation of hundreds of thousands of immigrant families.

Immigration Enforcement

2. Eleven Million New Americans

It is critical that we make a path to citizenship for the undocumented population the building block of a new humane immigration system and not as a pretext to ramp up enforcement that separates families. Recognizing the difficult path to legislate a comprehensive solution to our nation’s outdated immigration system, Senator Sanders will lead a political revolution that mobilizes millions of Americans, particularly Latinos and immigrants, to ensure that Congress acts on what the majority of Americans demand – a comprehensive and humane immigration reform policy.

3. Border Security and Militarization

Senator Sanders believes that we can ensure that our borders are modern and secure. Indeed, we must continually modernize our border security measures and maintain security, all while protecting the rights and needs of our border communities. Border communities have much to offer the nation economically and culturally, but these contributions have been stunted or overshadowed by a negligent buildup of border enforcement. Communities along our border, particularly along the southern border, have become militarized and are being patrolled by a highly weaponized Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP).


A humane immigration system must honestly look at creating viable, legal channels that match our labor market needs. We must seriously reassess our foreign and international trade policies in light of the effects they have on migration and U.S. workers. A failure to do so will contribute to future flows that even the best-designed system will have extreme difficulty in addressing.

5. Balanced Trade Agreements

Inequality across the world is universally acknowledged as the driving force behind migration. This inequality does not develop organically and the United States must be introspective about its role. For example, the ill-conceived NAFTA, devastated local economies and pushed millions to migrate.


Integration into the great American mosaic is extremely important. Yet our immigrant integration policies, often not a priority in our national discourse, gravitate towards forced assimilation and, even as our society became more inclusive, provided little support, guidance, or even a welcome path to becoming an American.