PHILADELPHIA—Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. pledged Monday to help reduce high school drop out rates among Hispanics, make it easier for illegal immigrant children go to college, and improve health care for the nation’s fastest growing minority group.
In a speech to an influential Hispanic group, Clinton, who some expect to run for president in 2008, said the government is not doing enough to help Hispanics reach their goals, and she called for a return to the economic policies of her husband Bill Clinton’s presidency.
The audience at the National Council of La Raza’s annual convention embraced the senator with loud applause and several standing ovations. The council is a civil rights organization with 300 affiliated groups nationwide.
“Since our country’s founding, Hispanic-Americans—from missionaries to admirals to Nobel laureates and astronauts—have not only been seeking the American dream for themselves, but helping to preserve it and expand it for others,” Clinton said.
She also touched on several education issues, including her support of legislation known as the DREAM Act, which would allow illegal immigrant children who finish high school in the United States to avoid deportation, earn a path to citizenship, and possibly receive in-state college tuition rates. The National Council of La Raza held a rally in support of the measure on Sunday.
“We want to make it possible for the 65,000 undocumented young people who graduate from our high schools each year to receive in-state tuition rates and pursue their own dreams,” she said. “I hope, with your help, we will make that Dream Act a reality this year.”
Spellings and Clinton both said more needs to be done to address the high school drop out rate among Hispanics which is four times higher than the drop out rate for white students.
Clinton also said that adult education programs should be expanded for those who are not planning to attend college and that they should be available to immigrants and to those with limited English skills.
In addition, she said education should be viewed as a global challenge, where the United States is competing against other countries such as China and India.
“The quality of education will determine not just whether an individual can win and compete, but whether the United States can win and compete,” she said,
Clinton also touched on several health-related themes, saying that she would work to reduce cases of lead poisoning in children and fight what she called “an asthma epidemic” which greatly affects Hispanics.
She also criticized the Bush administration’s economic record.
“We have not created one net new job in the last four years,” she said. “I’d very much like to go back to the economic policies of my husband where we had a balanced budget, where we had a surplus.”
Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington said that Clinton is the clear frontrunner for the Democratic nomination and is increasingly framing a national agenda.
“Hispanics are an important element of the Democratic constituency and the party needs to improve its showing among them as well as other key groups,” he said. “No surprise that she (Clinton) is beginning the task now.”