Hillary calls for path to citizenship for illegal immigrants
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"If we claim that we are for families, we have to pull together and solve the outstanding issues around our broken immigration system,” she said during a roundtable at a Nevada high school.
“We can’t wait any longer for a path to full and equal citizenship."
She praised President Obama's executive action on immigration and said that, as president, she would be willing to "do everything possible under the law to go even further” if Congress was not responsive to immigration reform.
The executive orders granting temporary legal status to some immigrants have infuriated conservatives, who say the orders are illegal. Clinton disagreed and boasted of her support for the executive actions several times during the Tuesday conversation.
“He had to act in the face of inaction that was not on the merits but politically motivated for partisan reasons,” she said of the president.
Clinton’s comments Tuesday were designed to reassure Hispanic voters, who were a crucial piece of the diverse coalition that installed President Obama in the White House in 2008 and kept him there four years later.
“Make no mistakes. Today, not a single Republican candidate — announced or potential — is clearly or consistently supporting a path to citizenship," she said.
“When they talk about legal status, that is code for second-class status."
Her remarks came in a discussion, with six young people, about the problems in the immigration system.
She said that, if elected, immigration reform would be “among the priorities that I would be advocating for in the beginning.” But she stopped short of committing to tackling the issue first, saying she could not predict what might happen between now and January 2017.
She also criticized the private detention centers used to hold many immigrants.
The criticism might represent a small rebuke of immigration detention facilities operated by private companies that have been established by the Obama administration. The president has defended them against allegations that they lead to mistreatment of the detained.
In December, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson personally opened a detention center for migrant women and their children in Dilley, Texas, which is operated by a private firm and is the largest immigration detention facility in the country.
In particular, Clinton criticized policies that set a minimum number of immigrants the government must detain each night. That, Clinton suggested, represented a perverse incentive for the state to take more people into custody.
“That just makes no sense at all to me,” she said. “That’s not the way that we should be running any detention facility.”
The government should try to only detain immigrants who “have a record of violent, illegal behavior,” she said.
She said the immigration detention system should make sure to provide “safe environments for vulnerable populations," like lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender migrants, while saying those groups also needed better access to legal representation.
Clinton has previously supported Obama's executive actions and has shifted positions on whether immigrants in the country illegally should receive driver's licenses — which she opposed during her 2008 presidential campaign.
But Tuesday, she was strongly in favor of the kind of comprehensive reform that Congress has failed to pass.
Echoing many proponents of reform, Clinton said it was impractical to deport every one of the millions of immigrants in the country illegally.
“That is not going to happen,” she said.
— Updated at 8:21 p.m.