The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jorge Ramos pressed Clinton and Sanders relentlessly on not deporting children. And that’s okay.

Both Democratic presidential candidates say they would differ from President Obama in their plans for deporting immigrants who entered the country illegally. (Video: The Washington Post)

A campaign full of pledges — to be loyal to Donald Trump, to support the Republican nominee, no matter what — got one more at Wednesday's Democratic presidential debate in Miami, when moderator Jorge Ramos pressed Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders into a promise not to deport illegal immigrant children.

It took some effort, and Ramos seemed to cross over into advocacy, particularly during his exchange with Clinton. The Univision anchor's questions strongly implied that continuing President Obama's deportation efforts — which have included sending children back to their native countries — would be wrong.

Ramos began by playing tape of a previous interview with Clinton in which the Democratic front-runner did not directly answer the question about deporting children to his satisfaction.

RAMOS: So secretary, you seem to be defending President Obama's deportation policy. And as you know, so far he has deported more than 2.5 million immigrants. So if you really don't want to be the next deporter-in-chief, can you promise tonight that you won't deport children and that you won't deport immigrants who don't have a criminal record? And this time, could I get a yes or no answer?

CLINTON: Yes, you can because the questions you were asking me were about children seeking asylum. And we have laws. That was the most critical thing I said. Under our laws — I would like to see those laws changed; I would like see added to them a guaranteed counsel and other support for children. But if you are asking about everyone who is already here, undocumented immigrants, the 11-12 million who are living here, my priorities are to deport violent criminals, terrorists, and anyone who threatens our safety. So I do not have the same policy as the current administration does. I think it's important that we move to our comprehensive immigration reform, but at the same time, stop the raids, stop the round-ups, stop the deporting of people who are living here doing their lives, doing their jobs, and that's my priority.


RAMOS: But again, yes or no, can you promise tonight that you won't deport children, children who are already here?

CLINTON: I will not deport children. I would not deport children. I do not want to deport family members, either, Jorge.

Ramos then posed the same question to Sanders, who began by criticizing Clinton's response but eventually came around to this: "No, I will not deport children from the United States of America."

It was a little unorthodox for a moderator to make such a value-laden inquiry — almost like something you'd expect from a protester at a rally. Voters who prefer a more conventionally neutral tone are certainly entitled to gripe here.

But I didn't mind Ramos's style. Yes, he was there to moderate — along with Univision colleague Maria Elena Salinas and Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty — but Ramos also was there to be a voice of Latinos. I viewed his as something of a hybrid role, akin to the one filled by conservative commentators Hugh Hewitt and Mary Katharine Ham in Republican debates. Hewitt and Ham's job was to pose questions (they were panelists, not moderators) but also to represent an important subset of the electorate. Same goes for Ramos.

Come to think of it, Hewitt has sought pledges during debates, too. At a December event, he asked Donald Trump if he would "abide by the decision of the Republicans" and not mount an independent White House bid, should he lose out on the GOP nomination. Trump vowed that he would. And at a February debate, Hewitt asked Trump whether he would "commit to voters tonight that religious liberty will be an absolute litmus test for anyone you appoint, not just to the Supreme Court, but to all courts." Again, Trump said yes.

In both cases, it seemed clear that there was a "right" answer in Hewitt's mind. But that was okay because he was speaking for many conservatives who felt the same way.

Similarly, Ramos on Wednesday was speaking for many Latinos who feel, as he seems to, that children should not be deported.

Even if you weren't a fan of his approach, you have to give him this: Ramos got yes-or-no answers from both candidates — a small miracle from two professional politicians who aren't always easy to pin down.