Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton arrives on stage for the Iowa Brown and Black Forum in Des Moine on Jan. 11, 2016. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

DES MOINES -- Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton on Monday stepped up criticism of the Obama administration's new policy of rounding up and deporting families who entered the United States illegally, joining her two rivals for the Democratic nomination who had previously done so.

"I do not think the raids are an appropriate tool to enforce the immigration laws. In fact, I think they are divisive. They are sowing discord and fear,” Clinton said at the Iowa Brown & Black Forum. She added that immigration enforcement “has to be done individually by individually," and not through "mass raids."

The forum is an early primary-season ritual for Democratic candidates, in which they discuss concerns that are relevant to minority communities. The first two contests are held in Iowa and New Hampshire, states that are overwhelmingly white.

As Clinton spoke, her campaign issued a statement that quoted Clinton blasting the raids in terms significantly stronger than the ones she used on the forum stage -- and stronger than the concerns she expressed when the policy was made public.

“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 the campaign's written 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. The raids have sown fear and division in immigrant communities across the country. People are afraid to go to work. They are afraid to send their kids to school. They are afraid to go to the hospital, or even the grocery store.”

The raids, which began earlier this month, are the first large-scale effort to deport families who are fleeing violence and poverty in Central America, a wave which has surged once again. Many of them are women and children.

Her two opponents, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, have been more outspoken on the issue, and have expressed their opposition in writing directly to the administration.