Eager to lock up the Hispanic vote against possibly strong Republican challengers, Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that she would do more than President Barack Obama to halt the deportation of immigrants who are in the United States illegally
“I would do everything possible under the law to go even further,” Clinton said at a campaign event in the early nominating state of Nevada.
Specifically, Clinton said she would stop the deportation of parents of so-called DREAMers, children brought into the country illegally. They are not protected now.
“We have gained so much from...your families who have come here and worked hard and made a contribution,” she said at a Las Vegas high school that has a roughly 70 percent Hispanic student body.
Clinton, the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination, spoke about the need for a rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws in her first trip to the battleground state as a 2016 candidate as she made an appeal to crucial Hispanic voters.
“The quicker we can legalize the people that are here, the better the job market will be for everybody,” she said.
Clinton said she supported a Senate bill that called for a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally as well as additional border enforcement. After Congress failed to pass the bill, she said Obama was correct to act on his own to block the deportation for millions of immigrants.
“I support the president’s action in the face of inaction,” she said.
She said it’s “foolish” to think the United States is going to deport 11 million people. “We must accept that we are a nation of immigrants,” she said.
Some immigration advocates had said Tuesday they would keep a close eye on her Nevada event after having seen her make some controversial remarks on the issue in the past. When she ran in 2008, for example, she was criticized after she opposed allowing immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to obtain driver’s licenses. Her campaign said she now supports allowing licenses.
“Advocates were concerned about Hillary Clinton, and for good reason,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigration advocacy group. “But tonight she threw down. She called immigration reform central to her campaign and took a series of positions that will make Republican heads explode and Republican candidates shudder.”
“Clinton’s commitment to upholding and expanding President Obama’s executive actions on deportations is a smart move, and polling shows it can help turn out the Latino vote,” said the group Presente Action, which bills itself as the nation’s largest online Latino organizing group.
Obama received strong support from Hispanic voters during his two presidential races. His Republican rival in 2012, Mitt Romney, struggled in battleground states such as Colorado, Florida and Nevada where Latinos are influential.
Clinton’s remarks allows her to draw clear distinctions with potential Republican rivals on immigration.
“This is where I differ with every candidate on the Republican side,” she said.
Clinton said no Republican presidential candidate is “clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship. Not one.”
Many Republicans oppose a path to citizenship, advocating instead for stronger border security. But both former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have supported some pathway to citizenship in the past, and both are working to win away some Hispanic support from the Democrats.
Last week, Bush said immigrants living in the U.S. illegally should have the chance to become legal under certain conditions. Rubio, who is Cuban-American, worked on the Senate bill that did not get a vote in the Republican-controlled House. Clinton said the bill “would have passed” if the House had taken it up.
Several Republican presidential candidates have said they would overturn Obama’s orders, which protected immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. It also protects parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for several years. Twenty-six states, including Nevada, sued to stop the plan.
Ruth Guerra, director of Hispanic Media for the Republican National Committee, accused Clinton of rolling out a new position to distract from a series of troubles plaguing her campaign, including millions of dollars in foreign donations to her family’s foundation.
“Her history of flip-flopping on this issue and many others only reinforces why voters see her as dishonest and untrustworthy,” Guerra said. “So when Hillary Clinton says ‘you know where I stand,’ the truth is she may not be standing there tomorrow.”