Tennessee Senate candidate Phil Bredesen said a "few thousand poor people" aren't a threat to the United States' security, referring to the northbound migrant caravan in Mexico.
"We're the strongest country in the world. A few thousand very poor people coming to our border is not a threat," the former Democratic governor told WCTB-TV on Wednesday. "It's not a threat to our security."
Bredesen weighed in after U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn — the Republican running against him — called the caravan an "illegal alien mob" at the border, even though the caravan is in southern Mexico and far from the U.S. border.
"There is a right way and a wrong way to come into our country, and Tennesseans want to see our immigration laws enforced and our border secured," Blackburn said in her statement earlier this week.
The stark stances between the two candidates once again thrust immigration into the spotlight in Tennessee's U.S. Senate race. Blackburn has repeatedly criticized Bredesen's handling of a law that allowed giving driver's licenses to immigrants who entered the country illegally, a law that was already in place before Bredesen became governor in 2003.
The state Legislature two years prior passed the bill to allow people without Social Security numbers to have driver's licenses. Then-Gov. Don Sundquist, a Republican, signed it.
Blackburn voted against establishing the program while serving as a state lawmaker in 2001.
"If Phil Bredesen had his way, he would be at the border, handing them all state-issued, taxpayer-funded drivers' certificates. He probably thinks they ought to use those certificates to vote too," Blackburn said in Monday's statement.
However, Bredesen scaled back the program in 2004 by allowing those without Social Security numbers to have a certificate — not a license that could be used for identification — for driving for up to one year with a label stating they were only for driving purposes.
Furthermore, shortly after federal investigators found that some testing centers were selling licenses and certificates illegally, Bredesen's administration stopped issuing the certificates. He eventually eliminated the program a year after.
"The outright lies about Gov. Bredesen's proven track-record on immigration and disgusting fear-mongering coming from Congresswoman Blackburn show just how well-versed she has become in D.C. swamp politics," said Alyssa Hansen, Bredesen's spokeswoman. "Instead of focusing on fixing our country's broken immigration system, she's fixated on using negative, false attacks to bolster her own failing campaign and using a serious problem as a wedge issue."
On other top immigration issues, Blackburn is opposed to so-called sanctuary cities and supports President Donald Trump and his plan for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Meanwhile, Bredesen has pushed against the need for an actual physical wall, countering that modern technology can provide more effective ways of securing the country's borders.