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Amy Taylor

What Are the Candidates Saying About Immigration Reform? Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton on Immigration

Hillary Clinton is widely viewed as a potential Democratic frontrunner in the 2008 Presidential campaign. She announced the formation of an exploratory committee (the first step toward an official announcement of her campaign) on Saturday. The field is filling up with candidates from both sides of the aisle as new announcements are made each week. Of all of the candidates that have entered the race so far, Hillary Clinton is probably one of the most outspoken on the issue of immigration (except perhaps Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) whose entire platform is about immigration-- see my next entry for more information). Although she has been criticized for her positions on immigration reform by both the left and right, no one can say that she will overlook the importance of immigration as an issue in the upcoming campaign.

One of her most quoted remarks about immigrants was made in 2004 when she criticized the Bush administration for not doing enough on border control and said, "I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants." This, of course, was widely quoted and spread across the blogosphere like wildfire. When the immigration debate heated up last spring, advocates criticized Clinton for not speaking out against the draconian House bill 4437 soon enough and for not taking enough of a leadership role in the debate around immigration reform. Ultimately, however, she was an outspoken critic of the bill, which she said would "literally criminalize . . . . probably even Jesus himself," when referring to the provision that would have made illegal entry into the U.S. a felony. Clinton said it would be "an unworkable scheme to try to deport 11 million people, which you have to have a police state to try to do."

She began to outline her own ideas for immigration reform in a public letter she sent to constituents in March.
Here she stated that she supported "a path to earned citizenship for those who are here, working hard, paying taxes, respecting the law, and willing to meet a high bar for becoming a citizen."

Clinton has sponsored numerous pieces of legislation that range from tough border security measures to those that support legalization programs for undocumented immigrants. Shortly after September 11, 2001, Clinton was a co-sponsor of "the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2001" (S.1749). This bill had wide bipartisan support but was also criticized for jeopardizing important civil liberties in the name of national security. She was a co-sponsor in 2004 of the "Safe, Orderly, Legal Visas and Enforcement Act of 2004" ("the SOLVE act") which would have granted Legal Permanent Resident status to undocumented workers and their families who had lived in the U.S. for at least 5 years. Clinton also supported the "Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors" ("the DREAM Act") which aims to grant in-state tuition and legal status to undocumented minors under 21 who have resided in the country for at least five years and have graduated from U.S. high schools. She ultimately voted for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, S 2611, that passed in the Senate last spring but never made it to the President's desk.

Although most remember the Senate bill for its provisions creating a "path to citizenship", Ms. Clinton never shied away from her focus on border control. "A country that cannot control its borders is failing at one of its fundamental obligations," she said of America's "broken system."

In addition to supporting the Senate bill, Clinton has called for a guest worker program and endorsed and voted for "the Fence Bill." In fact, she supported enacting the border enforcement piece of any legislation before putting into law a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants despite the Democratic leadership's insistence that the two measures be enacted simultaneously. In December she voted for the "Secure Fence Act of 2006", which included only the enforcement piece. She has also suggested that she would support a national identification card to crack down on illegal immigration.

Clinton has angered advocates for doing "too little, too late" according to Monami Maulik, head of a Queens group that represents Pakistani, Indian, and Bangladeshi immigrants. She said that during private meetings Clinton seemed supportive of focusing on the protection of civil rights when discussing enforcement of immigration laws, but that her public positions have been very enforcement-focused. She has been widely criticized for pandering to the right wing by taking some positions on the enforcement of immigration laws usually reserved for the anti-immigrant hardliners.

Although tough on the border, she has also recognized the contributions of undocumented immigrants to our economy. Back in April she spoke at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and praised the "hard work" of undocumented immigrants.

As her campaign kicks into gear, Hillary Clinton will need the support of wide range of voters. She should keep in mind the fate of many "tough on the border" campaigners who lost last November when voters across the country rejected such hardliner stances on immigration. Although she cannot be criticized for supporting protected borders, her focus on that issue comes at the expense of a focus on truly reforming our immigration system in ways that will realign policy with the real needs of our economy. Clinton supported the Senate bill and has spoken about the importance of a path to citizenship for hardworking and taxpaying immigrants. I encourage her to take this understanding of our economy's reliance on immigrant labor one step further. I encourage her to talk about immigration in a way that connects it to the broader needs of American workers by relating the empowerment of immigrant workers with the elimination of the race to the bottom that results when there is an exploitable underclass of laborers. We need a President who will fight to reform our current system in a way that will benefit immigrant and native-born workers alike.

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Posted at 1:03 PM, Jan 23, 2007 in Immigration | Politics | The Candidates on Immigration
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