WASHINGTON — Sen. Bernie Sanders called Friday for an aggressive push toward “humane and sensible” immigration policies that keep families together.

Speaking in Las Vegas before Latino policymakers, the Vermont independent and presidential candidate said he would expand President Obama’s “deferred action” policy, granting undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children temporary protection from deportation.

Sanders said deferred action should be offered to the parents of citizens, parents of legal permanent residents and the parents of “DREAMers,” a term for young people who grew up in the United States but lack legal status.

Obama’s attempts to expand the programs, which don’t specifically protect the parents of DREAMers, are being challenged in federal court.

“It makes common sense to me, and I think all people of good will, that we should be pursuing policies that unite families, not tear them apart,” Sanders told the National Conference of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

The speech offered Sanders’ most extensive comments yet about issues concerning the Latino community since he announced his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination last month. Though he supported the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform legislation, he has been criticized for not addressing such issues in previous speeches.

Noting he is the son of a Polish immigrant, Sanders said the story of immigrants is “the story of America.”

The need for comprehensive immigration reform and an economy that benefits all working people and not just a handful of billionaires are two major issues facing this country, he said. He said it’s time to end discussion of “mass deportation and self-deportation” and called for a “reasonable and responsible” path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

“It is not acceptable to me, and I think a growing majority of the American people, that millions of folks in this country are working extremely hard, but they are living in the shadows, and this has got to end,” he said.

Sanders also called it “appalling” that “so many voices” last year insisted that large numbers of unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico borders be “turned away or simply shipped back to their country of origin like a package marked return to sender.”

Last year, Hillary Clinton, the apparent frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, told CNN that unaccompanied minors “should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are” but she said they should be reunited with their families if possible. Clinton spoke at NALEO Thursday.

Sanders said: “America has always been a haven for the oppressed. Is there any group more vulnerable than children? We cannot and must not shirk the historic role of the United States as a protector of vulnerable people fleeing persecution.”

Sanders received periodic applause during his speech, which also touched on his policy goals of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, addressing youth unemployment, guaranteeing health care as a right and offering tuition-free education at American colleges and universities. He said he would pursue policies that empower minority communities and end voter suppression.

“It is only cowards who cannot defend their positions, who do everything that they can to lower voter turnout and suppress the vote,” he said.

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