Hillary Clinton To Immigrants: I’ve Got Your Back, This Time

Hillary Clinton
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivers the keynote address at the 18th Annual David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum at Columbia University in New York April 29, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

As Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid gathers steam she’s clarifying her positions on key topics including immigration. Vague on some issues as a candidate in 2007 and silent on others as Secretary of State, she’s now offering specific promise on immigration. In the past weeks and months, Clinton embraced state laws that give driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, said she agrees with Obama’s executive deferred action programs and supports comprehensive immigration reform. That’s not enough for immigration advocates who have been discouraged by President Obama’s legislative procrastination on the immigration issue. They want to hear more ambitious and more convincing pledges than they heard from Barack Obama in 2008.

“I want to hear, ‘In my first year, immigration reform is getting done and it’s getting done well,’” Angelica Salas, from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), told Buzzfeed.

Hillary Clinton may make additional immigration promises tomorrow at a campaign stop in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she will speak to high school students including some Dreamers. Her remarks could help determine not only who votes for her in the primaries but whether or not Latino activists will campaign for her should she make it to the general election in 2016. In 2012, immigration activists snubbed President Barack Obama during his reelection campaign becuase of what many viewed as a broken promise on immigration reform. Immigration activists not only refused to help turn out Latino voters -- a key strategy in recent Democratic campaigns -- but also attacked the campaign itself, occupying campaign offices and disrupting staffers trying to defeat Mitt Romney.

Obama eventually did take serious action on behalf of Dreamers with executive action. Yet if there’s any political capital to be garnished for Democrats,  Hillary hasn’t captured it with her Latino constituents. When Obama announced his massive expansion of deferred action last fall, the presidential candidate was relatively quiet.

“All she did was tweet her support, but outside of that, we haven’t heard much from her. Every time Dreamers in Iowa would confront her, she never said much about the program,” Maria Fernanda Cabello, 24, of United We Dream told Fusion. “My parents didn’t qualify for the DAPA announcement, so I want to hear from her how she’s going to make sure that they’re able to be protected from deportation [....]”

In other words, immigration advocates want specific promises from Clinton. But others might not be sold no matter what she says.

“We saw President Obama, who promised the world to us and had a record number of deportations — more than any other president in history,” Vargas told the Washington post. “If a timid President Obama won’t do it, what would a bold Hillary Clinton do?”

At the start of her campaign and in the months preceding it, Hillary Clinton has been saying less about immigration than her potential Republican rivals. She’s unlikely worried about the more conservative voices like Ted Cruz.  “He may be the most anti-immigration candidate on stage during the debates,” Cesar Vargas and Erika Andiola, co-directors of the Dream Action Coalition said in a joint statement last month. Scott Walker certainly won’t compete for the pro-immigration vote. Yet Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have made Clinton look relatively unengaged in strongly pro-immigrant statements.

“I’ve done more immigration than Hillary Clinton ever did,” Rubio said in an interview with NPR News.

For a Democrat seeking to win over the base and secure her party’s nomination, that’s no  claim that Clinton wants voters taking seriously. And while Rubio may just by trying to project his own weaknesses (he’s flip-flopped on immigration and no longer supports comprehensive reform), Jeb Bush presented a case earlier this week that only he wants to pass a real bill to deal with immigration.

“[Democrats] use this as a wedge issue, and we always lose,” Jeb Bush told a crowd at the National Review.  ‪“Delaying this is what [Obama] wants. He doesn’t want immigration reform.”

Hillary can convince Latinos that she really does want immigration reform. But her pledges will have to be specific, prescriptive, and unambiguous. Otherwise, she risks losing Latino votes to centrist Republican rivals and organizing power to the aether.

 
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