Bernie Sanders on Immigration

Bernie Sanders has said that we are a “nation of immigrants. That is, in fact, the strength of America.” Bernie believes that America’s immigration system is “profoundly broken,” and he supports immigration reform that will address the legal status of the roughly 11 million undocumented people in our country.

Bernie has released a comprehensive plan A Welcoming and Safe America for All that supports visa reform, securing the border, and protecting both guest workers and undocumented workers from labor exploitation. Bernie believes that the U.S. should hire “hundreds of new judges” to expedite the processing of asylum claims by immigrants fleeing persecution or violence. Bernie has spoken out strongly against President Trump’s “Muslim ban,” saying that the ban “has always been a racist and anti-Islamic attempt to ban Muslims from entering this country.” Bernie has called upon Trump to rescind the ban, and has cosponsored seven bills in the Senate to overturn the ban.

The Need for Immigration Reform: America’s immigration system is “profoundly broken” and must be fixed. 

Path to Citizenship: We ought to provide a path to legal residency or citizenship for most undocumented immigrants in the country today.

DREAM Act: Bernie supports the path toward permanent residency for young undocumented immigrants.

Visa Reform: Bernie rejects the exploitation of workers and the use of visas for cheap, foreign labor. We must increase opportunities for qualified individuals to take steps towards permanent residency.

Border Security: We can and must secure borders without building a fence.

Economic Exploitation: We can have a fair economy that accomodates undocumented immigrants and American workers without discrimination and manipulation of wages 

The Need for Immigration Reform

Bernie has actively worked on immigration issues and immigration reform throughout his career, sponsoring or cosponsoring 81 bills relating to immigration. 

Bernie has released a detailed immigration reform platform with the goal of creating a path to citizenship, expanding DACA and DAPA, restructuring ICE, ending the policy of family separation, and much more.

Bernie has spoken many times about the need for immigration reform:

How has Bernie been personally impacted by immigration?

Bernie’s father was a Polish immigrant who arrived in the United States at a young age: “[He arrived] at the age of 17 without a nickel in his pocket, without much of an education, without knowing the English language… like immigrants before and after he worked hard to give his family a better life here in the United States.”

What has Bernie supported for immigration reform?

Bernie supports DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), believing it is a “good first step, but should be expanded.” Bernie also supports DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans). Bernie has called President Trump’s rescission of the DACA program–currently held up by the courts–the “ugliest and most cruel decision made by a president of the US in the modern history of this country.”

Bernie supports the Dream Act, which is aimed at giving young undocumented immigrants a pathway to permanent residency in the United States. The Dream Act is discussed in greater detail below.

Bernie calls for restructuring ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and notes that he voted against creating the agency.

In 2013, Bernie supported legislation in the Senate for comprehensive immigration reform that would have provided a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants in the United States and help their children become citizens. Bernie continues to call for “comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship.”

Bernie cosponsored the Uniting Families Act of 2013, which would have allowed partners of any legal U.S. citizen or resident to obtain lawful permanent residency. This bill was primarily intended to give LGBTQ citizens the same right given to heterosexual citizens to bring their partners into America.

Several years earlier, in 2001, Bernie supported the Posthumous Citizenship Restoration Act of 2001, which would have extended the deadline for a person to be granted citizenship if they had died while on active-duty military service. The same year, he supported the Secret Evidence Repeal Act of 2001, a bill that would have enforced better treatment of undocumented immigrants in court, including requiring that defendants in any immigration proceeding be given advance notice of any evidence being used against them.

In 2004, Bernie supported amending the Immigration and Nationality Act. This amendment would have conferred “automatic citizenship” on lawful permanent resident aliens who were born in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, or Thailand between 1950 and 1982 and were fathered by U.S. citizens.

Bernie opposes the immigration enforcement practices, known as the Zero Tolerance Policy, which are responsible for the separation of undocumented parents from their children at detention facilities near the Mexican border, and for the recent crisis involving sanitary conditions for children still in detention centers in Texas and Florida

Bernie cosponsored Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii’s Immigration Court Improvement Act of 2019.

Path to Citizenship

In 2013, Bernie supported legislation in the Senate for comprehensive immigration reform that would have provided a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants in the United States and help their children become citizens. 

While that legislation did not make it into law, Bernie continues to emphasize that “instead of frightening 11 million undocumented people with deportation, we need comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship.” Putting it more starkly, Bernie says that the U.S. must “abolish the cruel, dysfunctional immigration system we have today.” 

In a July 2015 speech, Bernie highlighted that “undocumented workers are doing the extremely difficult work of harvesting our crops, building our homes, cooking our meals, and caring for our children. They are part of the fabric of America.” 

Bernie considers it “disgraceful” that “too often undocumented workers who cook meals and care for American children are reviled and shunted to the shadows.”

Why do people want to be citizens of the United States?

Being a citizen can benefit the person as well as the larger U.S. economy. For instance, naturalized immigrants earn more in wages after becoming a citizen. In the first two years after becoming a citizen, wages increase 5.6 to 7.2 percent, while after 12 years of citizenship, earnings increase up to 10.1 to 13.5 percent. For the United States, the increase in wages can also assist in growing the overall economy.


The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act is proposed legislation that has been pending in various forms since 1991 but has never been enacted into law; it is aimed at giving young undocumented immigrants a pathway to permanent residency in the United States. The DREAM Act which would grant conditional resident status to people who entered the United States before the age of 16, who graduate from a U.S. high school or obtain a GED, and meet certain other requirements. Those who serve in the U.S. military or attend college or university for at least two years could be eligible to receive permanent resident status. Versions of the DREAM Act proposed to date do not provide a path to citizenship.

How has Bernie supported the DREAM Act?

Bernie has cosponsored the DREAM Act since 2009.

In this video, Bernie discusses the DREAM Act:


In a 2015 speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Bernie shared his approval of the DREAM Act as a way to recognize “American kids who deserve the right to legally be in the country they know as home.” In the same speech Bernie promised that if Congress did not pass comprehensive immigration reform, if elected President, he would use executive powers to protect the parents of U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and so-called DREAMers from deportation.

Visa Reform

Bernie believes that, while visas provide opportunities for foreign citizens to work in America and strive toward becoming citizens, it is important to remain vigilant of just how the visas are being used. 

What are U.S. visas?

U.S. visas are required for citizens of foreign countries who desire to visit or work in the United States. There are two types of visas: nonimmigrant visas, for traveling to the United States on a temporary basis, and immigrant visas, for traveling to permanently live in the United States.

What concerns does Bernie have about the use of visas?

Proponents of new visa policies advocate that the visa program will attract and retain the “best and brightest” immigrants in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields with the goal of providing them with permanent residency. However, data has shown that the top ten users of the H-1B guest worker program are all offshore outsourcing firms. As Bernie pointed out, “these firms are responsible for shipping large numbers of American information technology jobs to India and other countries.”

In a 2013 interview, Bernie said that he does not support “under the guise of immigrant reform, a process pushed by large corporations which results in more unemployment and lower wages for American workers.” While he understands that in agriculture and STEM, foreign labor is needed, he believes that, with the way things are currently run, “this is a massive effort to attract cheap labor, a great disservice to American workers.”

Bernie is also very concerned with the exploitation of guest workers. He stresses that guest workers “have been routinely cheated out of wages, held virtually captive by employers who have seized their documents, forced to live in unspeakable inhumane conditions and denied medical benefits for on-the-job injuries.” Some guest worker programs have been called “close to slavery.”

How has Bernie supported visa reform?

Bernie voted for the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, Congress’s most recent attempt at comprehensive immigration reform. In addition to providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, this legislation also proposed changes to the H-1B visa program, increasing the cap to between 110,000 and 180,000 per year (up from 65,000) while at the same protecting the American workforce. 

The bill further proposed a new visa for entrepreneurs, a W visa for lower-skilled workers, and additional visas and Green Cards for students who have STEM degrees from U.S. colleges and universities.

Bernie cosponsored the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2013, which would have which raised wages for H-1B workers, required employers to make an effort to hire American workers first by posting job openings publicly, and prevented abuse of the H-1B program by increasing fees for employers who are heavily dependent on H-1B workers.

Border Security

Bernie acknowledges the importance of securing the border but is opposed to building a fence to do so, and he has voted against legislation that would build such a barrier. Bernie says a border fence was “a great idea in the 15th century when China built the Great Wall” but is “not so smart today.” Bernie has said that President Trump “continues to lie” about the need for a border fence.

Bernie has supported legislation that would have increased border patrol operations while simultaneously providing a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants. Bernie does not support an “open borders policy,” preferring to focus on a path to citizenship for immigrants already in the United States.

What is border security and why is it important?

Border security or border control are the measures put in place by a country to monitor or regulate its borders. Border control, according to the Department of Homeland Security, protects the United States from “the illegal movement of weapons, drugs, contraband, and people, while promoting lawful trade and travel.”

But shouldn’t we be doing more to secure our border?

The idea that we have hoards of undocumented immigrants pouring across the southern border is a myth. In fact, the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. has fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade, according to data from the PEW Research Center, although there has been a recent increase. While we should not be securing the border through militarization, Bernie believes that we must increase efforts at the Mexican border to efficiently combat the influx of drugs such as deadly fentanyl that come through legal ports of entry and combat the efforts of sex trafficking across the border through updated technology.

How has Bernie voted on border security legislation?

In 2005, Bernie voted against the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Act, which would have allowed the Secretary of Homeland Security to “take all appropriate actions” to maintain control over the U.S borders.

He voted against the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which aimed to build a fence along the Mexican border.

In 2006, Bernie voted against the Immigration Law Enforcement Act, which would have given local police departments increased authority “to investigate, identify, arrest, detail, or transfer to federal custody” any undocumented immigrants.

In 2013, Bernie voted for a comprehensive immigration reform bill called the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. This bill, which passed in the Senate but failed in the House, would have provided a way for many undocumented immigrants to gain legal status and potentially a path to citizenship while adding 40,000 border patrol agents.

Bernie welcomed the U.S. and Canada Border Pact of 2015, which emphasizes the need for the borders to be safe and secure while also working to “preserve the centuries-old friendship between our nations and the ability of Americans and Canadians to freely cross the border.”

Economic Exploitation

While Bernie believes immigration is a beneficial contribution to the thriving of an American economy, he also believes that American workers should not face unfair competition and no workers should be subjected to unfair economic exploitation.

What is the story of exploitation of undocumented immigrants?

The flow of undocumented immigrants often drive employers in gray-collar or blue-collar professions, especially in agriculture, manufacturing, and service sectors to hire unskilled workers from Central America and South America at lower wages. These employers often benefit by both exploiting immigrant workers and using these low wage workers to further undermine and weaken unions and collective bargaining rights.

Not only are wages low, but the already poor working conditions for undocumented immigrants  deteriorates as they continue working, and have no legal recourse to advocate for safer working conditions.

What has Bernie done to prevent Immigrant Exploitation?

In 2018, Bernie cosponsored the Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation Act (POWER Act). The POWER Act would guarantee labor protections, enforce child labor laws, and ensure that undocumented immigrants could assert their rights without retaliation by their employers through deportation. As President, Bernie will expand upon this legislation to ensure that undocumented immigrants do not suffer from racial or immigrant status discrimination when reporting domestic violence or labor rights violations.

While Bernie supports comprehensive immigration reform, he believes it must be fair to workers and so he voted against the Comprehensive Immigration Act of 2007 which featured a guest-worker program that did not protect workers rights and was opposed by many labor organizations.

You can learn more about Bernie’s positions on workers’ rights by checking out our other article!