Democrat Hillary Clinton on Monday called on the Obama administration to stop raids at homes of Central American immigrant families and provide attorneys for all children who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border without parents.
Clinton had been facing criticism from her Democratic primary rivals Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley for not taking a tough stand against the raids that the administration began New Year's weekend and that have led to the arrest of at least 121 individuals.
She issued the call Monday night to coincide with her appearance at Iowa's "Brown & Black Forum." The forum, which began in 1984, allowed for each Democratic candidate to separately address minority communities and respond to questions from journalists and the audience. A Republican version was to be held, but was canceled.
In the forum, Clinton was unwilling to say she would not deport children as president, explaining it was more complicated than a yes or no answer. When pressed, Clinton simply said children would receive "due process."
The immigration raids Clinton criticized have targeted families that arrived in the U.S. since May 2014, when the country saw tens of thousands of Central American immigrants arrive at the border seeking refuge from violence and economic conditions in their country.
Lawyers have managed to get deportation stays for a few families.
"Our immigration enforcement efforts should be humane and conducted in accordance with due process, and that is why I believe we must stop the raids happening in immigrant communities," Clinton said in a statement.
"We have laws and we must be guided by those laws, but we shouldn't have armed federal officers showing up at peoples' homes, taking women and children out of their beds in the middle of the night," she said.
Under current law, the federal government is not obligated to provide attorneys to immigrants in any immigrant proceeding. In recent years, the government has provided a small amount of funding for minors who come to the border alone.
The administration has said the recent arrests are intended to send a message to other potential arrivals that they will be sent home. The administration hopes to avoid a repeat of the tens of thousands who arrived at the border in summer 2014. There has been an increase in the number of families arriving at the border over the past couple of months.
Lawyers said they have found some family members did not get to consult with lawyers, were not aware of some or all of the chances to appeal for relief they can seek. In addition to ending the raids, Clinton said children should not have to defend themselves in removal proceedings without an attorney.
She also said the asylum and refugee system should be repaired so all people have "the chance to tell their story" and finally she said Congress should fund the president's request for $1 billion in aid to crack down on criminal organizations, work with regional partners and improve conditions in Central America.
During the forum, O'Malley was asked whether he feared if Clinton was elected she would continue the immigration policies of the Obama administration.
"No, because she's not going to be president, I am," O'Malley said.
O'Malley and Sanders had criticized the raids and urged an end to them soon after it was first reported they were planned.
A group of Democrats also urged Obama in a letter, signed by about 100 members, to end the arrests and condemn the policy.