Senator Bernie Sanders repeated his support for immigration reform during the Iowa Brown and Black Forum on Monday night, but not if it comes with a massive increase in guest worker visas—a program he said is akin to slavery.
Sanders previously voted nay on a failed 2007 immigration reform package, siding with Senate Republicans against the Bush administration-supported bill. His Democratic rivals in this year's presidential contest, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, voted for the bill.
While Sanders has long supported comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship, he has always stopped short of deals that include any type of big increase of the guest worker program, which he criticizes as inhumane and bad for the U.S. workforce.
"You have people being terribly exploited and if they stood up for their rights, they would be thrown out of the country," Sanders said Monday night in Iowa. "I happen to believe we do have to move toward comprehensive immigration reform and a path toward citizenship."
Sanders did vote for the 2013 "Gang of Eight" immigration reform package, but criticized its inclusion of guest worker programs. That bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support, but was never brought to vote in the House.
Sanders' opposition to guest worker programs puts him in unusual company, since it's a position that's most common among those who are against immigration. While the official Republican Party platform is in favor of guest workers, some Republicans, such as Rep. Steve King of Iowa, are strongly opposed to them.
When asked about his opposition to the 2007 bill, Sanders pointed out that many leading progressives in Congress also opposed the bill.