Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clashed over issues related to immigration and their respective approaches to immigrant communities during their March 9 debate. The crossfire was evident as the two candidates for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination accused each other of failing immigrants or pandering to them, in addition to assailing Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
 
Sanders claimed that Clinton had turned her back on minors fleeing drug-related violence in Central America and entered the United States illegally in a flood two years ago. He thundered, “Secretary Clinton said, ‘Send them back!’ ”
 
“Misrepresentations can’t go unanswered here,” Clinton replied, claiming that Sanders supports “vigilantes” patrolling the southern border of the United States to stop illegal immigration. Sanders denied the charge, and the tone was set for the rest of the debate.
 
The exchange took place at Miami Dade College, where the raw emotions of immigrants were exposed. Both Clinton and Sanders promised to go even further than President Obama in protecting illegal immigrants, while affording them a path to citizenship.
 
Jointly sponsored by The Washington Post and Univision, the Spanish-language network, the debate was held partly in Spanish. Some members of the audience asked questions in Spanish that were then translated for the candidates. One of the co-hosts was Jorge Ramos, a journalist for Univision who has had some run-ins with Donald Trump in recent months. He is an American citizen who was born in Mexico. His daughter, Paola, works on Clinton's presidential campaign.
 
Sounding a theme frequently voiced by leftists and other critics of the United States, Sanders condemned the history of U.S. relations with the Latin American republics. He claimed that it was a "mistake" for America. to "go around overthrowing small Latin American countries," even in the case of Communist Cuba. 
 
Sanders won an upset primary victory on March 8 in Michigan, where he had depicted Clinton as having supported free-trade agreements such as NAFTA at the expense of American workers. Clinton promised to plod on: “This is a marathon, and it’s a marathon that can only be carried out by the kind of inclusive campaign that I’m running.” She added, “It was a very close race, and we’ve had some of those.”
 
On Super Tuesday, March 15, Democrats and Republicans will vote for their respective candidates in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio. Florida is essential to the political fortunes of all the presidential aspirants. Polls show that Clinton is beating Sanders, while she also has considerable appeal among Hispanics.
 
In some highly emotional moments, a woman from the audience asked in Spanish to know what the candidates would do to reunite families such as hers that have been separated, allegedly by U.S. immigration laws. Sanders said, “Ma’am, I will do everything I can to unite your family,” who added, “Your children deserve to be with their mother.” Clinton said, “It’s time to bring families together.” "The essence of what we are trying to do here," said Sanders, "is to unite families, not to divide families." The immigrant woman who spoke was Lucia Quiej, whose husband was deported back home to Guatemala. Quiej was left to care for the couple's five children. 
 
Revealing a continuing sensitivity during her campaign, Clinton refused to answer whether she would quit the race if she is indicted in light of her use of a private email server for classified documents. The FBI is currently conducting an investigation into her email exchanges with staff during her tenure as Secretary of State. No charges have emerged yet. Sputtering, Clinton said “It’s not going to happen. I’m not even going to answer that question.”
 
Neither of the candidate, when called upon, would deign to call Donald Trump a “racist.” Clinton did label his position on Muslim immigration as “un-American.” Clinton said, “I think what he has promoted is not at all in keeping with American values.” She sought to ridicule Trump’s plan to build what she said is a “very tall wall” along the U.S. border with Mexico. 
 
Sanders did not call Trump a racist either but said the New Yorker’s vow to deport 12 million illegal immigrants as “vulgar.” He said, “I think that the American people are never going to elect a president who insults Mexicans, who insults Muslims, who insults women, who insults African Americans.” While Trump has come under criticism from some sectors for allegedly insulting Mexican immigrants, it was not clear to which supposed insult to African-Americans Sanders was referring.
 
Sanders called Clinton to reveal the transcripts of paid speeches she gave to Wall Street firms following her tenure at the State Department. Before announcing her presidential candidacy, for instance, Clinton reaped $225,000 for a speech to the Goldman Sachs firm. “When you get paid $225,000, that means that speech must have been an extraordinarily wonderful speech,” Sanders said. 
 
Batting him back, Clinton said that what she had to say about Wall Street is on public record.
 
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook has expressed confidence that Clinton, ultimately, will win despite Sander’s victory in Michigan. Mook said that Clinton still holds a numerical advantage over Sanders. “We are confident we are nearing the point where our delegate lead will essentially be insurmountable,” Mook said.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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