Sanders at rally in Tucson, Ariz. (Rick Scuteri / AP)

Before an energized crowd in the heavily Hispanic city of Tucson, Ariz., on Friday, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called for immigration reforms that would prioritize keeping families together and protecting from deportation the estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the U.S. without permission.

And in the wake of several recent deadly shootings, he also took the opportunity to call for stronger background checks for people seeking to buy guns, as well as for an end to the easy availability of assault weapons, The Guardian reports.

“We are tired of condolences and we are tired of just prayers. We are tired and we are embarrassed in picking up the paper or turning on the TV and seeing children in elementary schools slaughtered and young people on college campuses shot,” said the 74-year-old senator from Vermont.

To the chagrin of some liberals and the angry disapproval of many others, Sanders has a history of opposing gun regulation. But he spoke Friday as if that would change if he were elected president.

“I think the vast majority of the American people want us to move forward in sensible ways that keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them and cut down on these senseless murders that we see every week,” Sanders continued.

He also linked the gun issue to the need for improved mental health services. “All over this country we have thousands of people who are suicidal, who are homicidal, but they cannot get the help they need when they need it. We need a revolution in mental health delivery in this country,” Sanders said.

The candidate also addressed the liberal city’s 42 percent Hispanic population, making good on his promise earlier this week to move “very aggressively” to court Hispanic voters.

“Today’s undocumented workers play an extraordinarily important role in our economy. Without these workers, it is likely that our agricultural system would collapse. Undocumented workers are doing the hardest work in this country. They’re harvesting our crops, building our homes, cooking our meals and caring for our kids. They are part of the fabric of this country.”

Hispanics made up about 10 percent of the electorate in 2012 and skew heavily Democratic, but they hardly know the candidate, The Guardian reported. In July a Univision poll of Hispanic voters found he was viewed favorably by 16 percent of respondents and unfavorably by another 16 percent, while 68 percent reported having no opinion, The Guardian reported. On the other hand, fellow Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is widely known and popular among Hispanics.

But Sanders may have begun to attract the support he needs. This week Raul Grijalva, a Tucson-area Democratic representative and member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, became the first sitting member of Congress to endorse Sanders. Grijalva told the crowd why.

“Bernie’s my friend. And beyond friendship, I agree with his values, I agree with the solutions that he is bringing and his campaign is bringing to the American people and, finally, it’s way past time that we had a national campaign and a voice that speaks truth to power,” he said. “Not triangulated in any way: direct, honest, straight, truthful.

“The campaign’s mission is very simple. It’s about fairness and equality … fixing an immigration system that is punitive at best and broken at worst.”

The Guardian further reported:

Many in the audience held “We stand with Rosa” banners in reference to Rosa Robles, a Mexican who has taken sanctuary in a Tucson church for 14 months in a bid to avoid deportation.

One of them was her husband, Gerardo Grijalva, who stood by a barrier near the front of the crowd. “Immigration is an issue that really matters to Latinos,” he said. “The more he comes to places like this, the more there’s a lot of talk about immigration, [the better].”

The event also heard from Bobby de la Rosa, a 10-year-old American citizen whose mother left to visit Mexico in 2009 but was banned from returning to the US for a decade, putting immense strain on the family.

Sanders spoke about his own family’s immigration story. “My father came to this country at the age of 17 from Poland. He came to this country not speaking a word of English, came to this country without a nickel in his pocket … there was no prouder American,” he said.

“That story is the story of America,” he continued. “It is the story of hardworking families coming into this country to create a brighter future for their children. It is a story rooted in family and fueled by hope.”

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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