-- Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders called the controversy over immigration "trumped up" today during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border near Nogales, Arizona, just days before the primary in this southwest state.
"The so-called immigration problem we face today at this particular moment, is a trumped up and exaggerated problem," he said during a hillside press conference with the expansive, brown border fence stretching off into the distance behind him. His microphone was run off of a generator.
Sanders went on to quote numbers from the Pew research center that indicate more people have been going from the United State to Mexico, rather than the other way around.
"We don’t need a wall and we don't need barbwire," He said. "We need to fix our broken criminal justice system. First and foremost, it goes without saying that we need comprehensive immigration reform, we need to take 11 million undocumented people out of the shadows, out of fear, and we need to provide them with legal protection, and we need to provide them with a path toward citizenship."
The Vermont senator said he would end the "deportation regime" currently at work in the country and spoke at length about "fear" and "sadness" he has seen in families torn apart by deportations. When asked specifically if he believed President Obama was part of that "regime" he said, "Yes."
"The rounding up of families that happened around Christmas time and continues to happen must end, and as president I will end it," he said before listing several of his immigration policy proposals, including expanding the deferred action program for immigrants who came to the country as children (DACA) as well as the proposals to grant status to parents of legal residents.
While touring the Morely Gate Border Crossing by foot, he spoke briefly with one DREAMer and another young woman who recently received asylum status.
He also spoke at length about ending private prisons and detention centers and called the work of Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio "inhumane" and a "disgrace." Sanders' wife, Jane Sanders, recently had a run-in with Arpaio during a visit to one of his so-called tent cities, which the senator called an "ambush."
Arpaio endorsed Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, who is also campaigning in Arizona this weekend. Sanders had strong words for the businessman as well.
"I would hope that all of us are rightly appalled by the divisive bigoted and xenophobic comments of people like Donald Trump," he said motioning to the border. "Trump’s labeling of Mexicans as rapists and criminals repulses all Americans of good will. Mexico is our neighbor, which we have extremely important relations with. To insult an entire nation is not befitting of anybody, let alone a candidate for president of the United States."
Sanders' primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, has not yet made a stop at the border during this campaign. When asked if he was trying to distinguish himself from her by coming to this site, the senator replied, "Well, I just wanted to make it very clear that I think we have a crisis in this country with 11 million undocumented people, that so many people, and I have met a lot of them, are living in fear and that they are being exploited."