Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) clashed earlier this month over immigration policies during a Telemundo debate as Gardner seeks a second term this November.

Gardner is facing a tough reelection as Democrats look to Colorado as part of their effort to regain control of the U.S. Senate. The Republican has been positioning himself as independent from the party, particularly on immigration policy.

At one point in the Telemundo debate, the candidates sparred over protection from deportation for undocumented immigrants. Gardner cited Hickenlooper’s comments during a 2010 gubernatorial debate with former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), in which Hickenlooper said that Denver referred more than 8,000 names to immigration authorities. 

Hickenlooper’s comments were in response to Tancredo’s claim that Denver was a “sanctuary city.” Denver—where Hickenlooper served as mayor from 2003 to 2011—already had a rule in place that limited investigating illegal immigration, according to the Denver Post

Gardner said during the debate that he is in favor of protections for immigrants because “they’re my neighbors, they go to school with my children.” After stonewalling for many months, the Republican recently expressed support for the House-passed American Dream and Promise Act regarding DREAMers.

“The Senate should act quickly to provide permanent relief for Dreamers,” Gardner said in June.

Gardner’s rhetoric has changed on protections for young, undocumented immigrants—known as DREAMers—since joining the Senate. He co-sponsored legislation in 2018 with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) that would grant legal status to DREAMers.

“Our immigration system is broken and we need to fix it,” Gardner said at the time. “There are many children who came to this country without documentation and we need to allow them the opportunity to remain here lawfully.

However, immigrant-rights organizations have claimed that Gardner has not done enough to protect DREAMers during Trump’s tenure as president. Roughly 15,000 DREAMers currently live in Colorado, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services data.

As a member of the House of Representatives in 2013, Gardner openly opposed a bipartisan bill that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented people in the United States and enact stronger border security measures.

In 2015, Gardner also said that he opposed former President Barack Obama’s executive order that would have expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to grant more young undocumented immigrants protection from deportation.

Gardner attempted to paint Hickenlooper as being opposed to immigration reform and attacked him for his past comments on DACA. He pointed to a statement by the governor that Democrats should “give up” on a pathway to citizenship and focus on more specific protections from deportation.

Hickenlooper called Gardner’s description of his positions as an “attack and distortion.”

As governor, Hickenlooper signed legislation granting in-state tuition to DREAMers and joined a lawsuit to stop the Trump administration from ending DACA.