Sen. Bernie Sanders criticized Hillary Clinton's position on sending immigrant children who had crossed the border illegally back to their native countries as "irresponsible" as the two battled for the critical Latino vote in Tuesday's California primary.
Six states vote on Tuesday, with California's 475 delegates the biggest prize. After winning Puerto Rico's primary on Sunday, Clinton is 26 delegates short of the 2,383 needed to win the Democratic nomination.
California's large Latino population could be a key to whether Clinton wins the state as she claims the nomination or if she suffers another nagging loss to Sanders as she heads into the party's convention in Philadelphia in July.
The two highlighted their differences on immigration in appearances in Los Angeles over the weekend, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Clinton criticized Sanders' opposition to the 2007 immigration reform bill that she supported. Sanders opposed the bill at the time because he said it would drive down wages for low-income workers.
At a separate forum, Sanders said he would support a new policy that would protect immigrants in the country illegally from being deported if they were cheated out of wages by their employers.
On Sunday, Sanders criticized Clinton's previous statements on immigration via Twitter.
It's irresponsible that my opponent justifies sending children back to terribly violent countries as a way to "send a message."— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) June 6, 2016
Sanders was specifically referring to Clinton's statements two years ago regarding children who were at the Mexico-U.S. border, when she said "We have so to send a clear message, just because your child gets across the border, that doesn't mean the child gets to stay."
Then an hour later:
Raids are not the answer. We cannot continue to employ inhumane tactics involving rounding up and deporting thousands of immigrant families.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) June 6, 2016
Sanders has been making a big push in California in his hope for an upset victory, with a focus on Latinos, who outnumber whites in the state, 14.99 million to 14.92 million, according to a Census Bureau study.
Polls in California show the Democratic race has tightened over the final weeks of the campaign, with only 2 or 3 percentage points separating the two candidates.