Clinton’s Immigration Game Changer

Jamelle Bouie, Slate, May 6, 2015

For the second time in two weeks, Hillary Clinton has surprised progressives. Last week, in the aftermath of rioting in Baltimore, she gave a strong speech on criminal justice reform, endorsing body cameras and police reform, and calling for an end to mass incarceration.

On Tuesday, speaking to a group of DREAMers–unauthorized kids brought to the country as children–at a Nevada high school, she gave the same full-throated support to comprehensive immigration reform, going beyond President Obama–and activist expectations–to endorse changes to the immigration detention system, a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, protections for children brought to the country illegally, and an expansion of the president’s executive order, meant to keep millions of unauthorized immigrants from deportation and give millions more the right to apply for work permits and other documentation. “The American people support comprehensive immigration reform not just because it’s the right thing to do,” Clinton said during the roundtable meeting, “but because it will strengthen families, strengthen our economy, and strengthen our country. That’s why we can’t wait any longer, we can’t wait any longer for a path to full and equal citizenship.”

This is a line in the sand. Hillary Clinton is for expansive immigration reform. And the implications–in policy and in politics–are huge.

First is the policy. Unlike Obama, who excluded large groups of unauthorized immigrants from his deferred action programs, Clinton wants to “do everything possible under the law to go even further” for large groups of people, including “many parents of DREAMers and others with deep ties and contributions to our communities.” Whether it’s possible is unclear; according to Obama’s Office of Legal Council, it’s illegal. At the same time, such a move might fall within the “broad discretion” enjoyed by the executive branch on matters of immigration. Either way, it would mark a substantial change from the status quo.

Clinton also wants to reduce the number of vulnerable people in detention facilities, including children, LGBT individuals, and the elderly. “I’m very worried about detention, and detention facilities for people who are vulnerable and for children that I think we could do a better job if we kept attention to the people who have a record of violent, illegal behavior and that we have a different approach toward people who are not in that category,” she said. {snip}

Second is the politics as it relates to Democrats. Clinton is already well-positioned with Latino voters. By tacking to the left of the president–and essentially giving immigration activists their core demands–she moves closer to rebuilding the coalition that elected Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. {snip}

Which leads us, finally, to how this relates to Republicans. According to the latest poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, she leads both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio with 66 and 63 percent support among Latinos versus 28 and 32 percent support, respectively. This isn’t far from Obama’s performance versus McCain in 2008 (67 percent to 31 percent) and Romney in 2012 (71 percent to 27 percent). {snip}

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