Making A Play For Latino Voters, Clinton Backs Path To Citizenship For Illegal Immigrants

In a move that is clearly designed to have an impact in the General Election, Hillary Clinton came out in support of broad immigration reform in Nevada yesterday.

Hillary Clinton Speaking

In the three weeks or so since Hillary Clinton entered the Presidential race, she has avoided making many detailed pronouncements on public policy beyond the general statements that one usually gets from politicians in the early stages of a campaign. When pressed for specifics by reporters, Clinton campaign officials have deferred by saying that they plan on making detailed statements about policy in the near future, and that the candidate is spending these early stages of her campaign listening to voters rather than making broad promises. That position changed somewhat, and significantly, yesterday when Mrs. Clinton went further even than President Obama on the issue of immigration when meeting with a Latino group in the early primary, and important General Election, state of Nevada:

LAS VEGAS—Hillary Clinton, bidding to maintain Democratic dominance among Hispanic voters, said Tuesday she would work to expand President Barack Obama’s executive actions protecting people in the U.S. illegally from deportation, and push for legislation including a path to citizenship.

She said GOP proposals for legal status, which some Republicans have embraced, fall short of what’s needed. “We can’t wait any longer for a path to full and equal citizenship,” she said. She said not a single Republican candidate has consistently supported that policy. “When they talk about ‘legal status,’ that is code for second-class status.”

Republicans Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida both once supported a path to citizenship but have modified their positions. Other Republicans oppose any legalization, saying it would reward lawbreaking.

Mrs. Clinton said she would extend the Obama executive action, strongly opposed by Republicans as an abuse of presidential power and parts of which are being challenged in court. The Obama policy gives parents of U.S. citizens as well as young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children the chance for work permits. He said he adopted it in the face of congressional inaction on the issue.

Mrs. Clinton said she would consider expanding that program, known as deferred action, to allow parents of these young people to apply for deportation deferrals. Mr. Bush has said he would roll back the deferred action program, and Mr. Rubio has said he would keep only part of it.

Together, her comments amounted to a full-throated embrace of much of the agenda being pushed by the immigration-rights movement. She made her comments in a presidential swing state, where 18% of eligible voters are Hispanic, at a high school with a student body that is about 70% Hispanic.

The event reflected the growing importance of Hispanic voters, who have helped deliver the White House to Democrats two elections in a row. In 2012, Mr. Obama lost badly among white voters but won re-election because of his strong support from Hispanics and other minorities.

Democrats are particularly fearful that Mr. Bush, who speaks fluent Spanish and talks about immigration with warmth, could attract substantial support from Hispanic voters. Mrs. Clinton’s comments were aimed in part at casting him as on the wrong side of the issue.

Mrs. Clinton has been on record in favor of a path to citizenship for people in the U.S. illegally since at least 2004, but she occasionally has rankled immigration activists.

In 2007, when running for president for the first time, she waffled about whether to support driver’s licenses for undocumented residents. Last summer, she upset some by saying unaccompanied children crossing the border illegally should be sent back to their home countries. Mrs. Clinton also declined last year to urge Mr. Obama to use his executive authority to protect people from deportation.

More recently, Mrs. Clinton supported driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and she made it clear that she supported Mr. Obama’s executive actions after he took them last November.

Obviously, Clinton is not making policy statements such as this to shore up support in the Nevada Caucuses (or primary, depending on what party officials decide) next February. As with every other contest in the race for the Democratic nomination, she will win that vote quite handily unless something truly earth shattering happens in Democratic politics over the course of the next nine months. Instead, as noted, this is clearly something that is being put forward with the General Election in mind, and specifically an aim to appeal to and energize Latino voters, who have tended to vote Democratic in the last several Presidential elections but who have also tended to be less likely to vote than other demographic groups. This is a voting bloc that could be crucial in several swing states next year, including not just Nevada, but also Florida and Virginia, both of which Republicans must win if they are going to have any shot at 270 Electoral Votes. It’s also clear that at least part of the motivation for the forum Clinton held yesterday, and her statements, was to mend what has at times been a testy relationship with Latino immigration activists. As noted, back during the 2008 campaign, she drew fire from some Latino groups for her waffling on the issue of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. More recently, she has been criticized for her failure to comment directly on President Obama’s executive action on immigration, which came during a time when Clinton was clearly still preparing to run and avoiding policy statements of any kind. At some point, Clinton was going to have to address all these issues and, now that she has she has differentiated herself significantly from whomever it is that the Republicans end up nominating.

Realistically, of course, it’s unclear just how much of this Clinton would be able to deliver on if she were elected President. Assuming that Republicans retain control of the House in 2016, as pretty much everyone seems to expect, it would be difficult at best to get the kind of immigration reform bill through Congress that she suggesting here. Prospects in the Senate don’t seem much better regardless of which party has control after the 2016 elections either, since a Republican minority would be able to make use of the legislative filibuster and other means to block a bill if they were united in the effort. Failing something making it through Congress, it would be difficult for Clinton to enact her promises in this area into law, and it honestly seems unlikely that she would make immigration reform the top priority of her first year or so in office when there are other, more pressing, issues, such as the economy, to deal with. This would leave Clinton with essentially the same limited options that President Obama has utilized over the past several years when he enacted the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program in 2012 and then followed it up with the broader actions announced last November. Clinton has said that she would continue and expand those programs, but whether or not she’ll be able to do so is still an open question. The President’s November actions are currently the subject of a multi-state lawsuit pending in Texas, and they have not fared so well so far. In February, a Federal District Court Judge ordered a temporary halt to the program and, two weeks ago, lawyers for the Obama Administration received what has been called a “chilly” reception from a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in their appeal of that ruling. Ultimately, of course, this issue will be decided by the Supreme Court, but if the Justices end up ruling against the Obama Administration then it would severely restrict Clinton’s ability to bypass Congress on this issue if she becomes President.

Those, however, are concerns for two years from now. As a short-term political matter, this is a smart move on the part of the Clinton campaign that could end up paying off big dividends in the General Election.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Borders and Immigration, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. stonetools says:

    Finally, a discussion on Clinton policy proposals and not on sideshows like insincere attacks on donor contributions to the Clinton foundation. Great.

    Here again, the distinction is between the Democratic embrace of sane policy (comprehensive immigration reform)and the Republican embrace of insane policy ( “let’s build a wall along the border and deport 11 million illegal brown people because otherwise, ISIS will invade Arkansas”).

  2. C. Clavin says:

    I guess you missed Clinton’s very good speech on the wake of the Baltimore riots, calling for police and prison reform. It was particularly striking as her husband is largely responsible for the system being as harsh as it is.
    (note: that day you posted another Clinton foundation story – so I can see why you missed it)
    But good on you for acknowledging your shortcomings and working to change.

    This is a rather brilliant move; Republicans have been giving lip service to the immigration issue in an attempt at outreach. This is definitely a game changer.

    “When they talk about ‘legal status,’ that is code for second-class status.”

    No matter how strongly Republicans react…their actions in the next year and a half will put the lie to anything they say.

  3. Mu says:

    If things keep going like this I’ll have to vote Jeb by default, only one left who hasn’t said something I completely disagree with. But the season is long….

  4. DrDaveT says:


    only one left who hasn’t said something I completely disagree with

    If there’s a viable presidential candidate who hasn’t said something you completely disagree with by (say) next January, you need to adjust your meds. The best imaginable platform is going to contain some distasteful compromises.

    (For example, I recognize that anyone who ran on a platform of what I personally think would be best for America would never make it past the first primary debate…)

  5. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Not to state the obvious, but were the Dems somehow worried about not getting the bulk of the Latino vote?

  6. michael reynolds says:



  7. It isn’t a matter of the Democrats losing the Latino vote as much as it is Latino’s not showing up to the polls.

    Studies and election returns confirm that voter turnout among this group is lower than it is among most others outside of young voters.

  8. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    He’s Cuban. Mexicans (or for that matter Central Americans in general) at least in my limited experience, aren’t that fond of Cubans. They see them as haughty and superior, and they can tell the difference even if the GOP can’t.

    I’m not sure that the “all brown people like all other brown people” strategy will be much of a benefit for them.

  9. JohnMcC says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Turn out. (but turnout rate has lagged that of blacks, whites)

    edit: Ya snooze, ya lose… I see the point was made by others but here’s the numbers as of ’12.

  10. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Understood, but again it doesn’t mean much if the people who turn out vote against you. 2012, for example – Cruz garnered 35% of the Latino vote in Texas, which is actually a point less than Cornyn pulled in 2008.

    In the same election, Romney pulled 29%, so at best a 6% differential that has to at least in part be attributed to Romney’s obvious image problems with blue collar communities.

    If an ostensibly Latino GOP candidate can’t pull any better than 35% in home turf like Texas, it’s time to think a little further about messaging than “hey, we have a brown guy!”

  11. JohnMcC says:

    Using Texas as an example is somewhat confusing because of the demographics. It is a state that is ‘majority minority’; hispanics are 38% of the population while ‘anglos’ are 44%. With a minority-white population it sits out there in front of Dems like a fat, hanging curve ball in A-Rod’s dreams. Unfortunately for the present, the demographics also show that 38% includes a higher proportion of citizens less than 18 yrs old (48% of Texas’ K-12 students are hispanic) and there is a higher percentage of non-citizens who are hispanic (30% of hispanics there are foreign-born which is of course not exactly the same as non-citizen but is a useful proxy).

    So the difference between the voting behavior of hispanic vs non-hispanic Texans is not completely about turnout. But a high enough hispanic turnout in an election in which Texas Repubs had little enthusiasm could actually produce that liberal wet dream of turning Texas blue.

    When Dems can look at figures like those they (well, actually “we”) have strong motivation for making the sort of policy that Ms Clinton enunciated very early in the campaign. As the Original Post remarked on, her campaign has made ferry few specific policy statements.

    And re: Sen Cruz being Cuban (well, half Cuban), we both understand that ‘Spanish-surnamed Americans’ are a very diverse group and the Cuban-American segment gets little love from the larger group. They benefit immensely from the ‘wet-foot/dry-foot’ policy and do not seem to non-Cubans to have shared their toys like good children ought.

    So I think we’re in agreement, eh?

  12. HarvardLaw92 says:


    We are. I don’t have a problem with Clinton’s messaging here. It might be to some extent superfluous, but big deal. I think we agree on the larger point – if the GOP wants to gain Latino votes to any meaningful extent, they’re going to have to advance policy positions that resonate with Latinos instead of repelling them. Simply trotting out a Latino candidate isn’t going to save them.

  13. Grewgills says:

    I’m guessing her speech will have the added benefit of turning the crazy on a certain set of republicans up to 11. If they are loud enough it won’t just be non-whites and immigrants that are turned off.

  14. michael reynolds says:


    First, I think Hillary is stating what she believes. But that asidepolitically, if she moves fast to solidify her base and it’s reflected in the polls then 1) As Grewgills points out it will ramp up the anti-immigrant crazy in the GOP and 2) It will leave GOP voters with less reason to support Rubio. You know and I know that a Florida Cuban will cut no ice in San Antonio or Bakersfield but Republicans can’t tell one brown person from the next.

    If I were Hillary I’d want Jeb out of the major opponents. Jeb inoculates her on the dynasty issue, and he’s carrying his brother’s baggage. Jeb’s old news and Walker’s an insufferable twat, so of the three I’d worry about Rubio. Rubio makes her look old.

  15. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You have a point. It occurred to me after I’d posted above that she is kneecapping Rubio on what has been more or less his signature issue by doing this.

  16. superdestroyer says:

    Ms. Clinton has proved the point that many on the right have been making for years. No matter how hard the Republicans want to pander to Latinos to get their votes, the Democrats will always be able to outpander.

    Any idiot conservative who believes that throwing middle class whites under the bus to pander to Latinos is too stupid to be involved in governance (looking at you, Jeb Bush).

  17. Barry says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “Not to state the obvious, but were the Dems somehow worried about not getting the bulk of the Latino vote?”

    As Doug said in the original article up top – turnout.

  18. Barry says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “I’m not sure that the “all brown people like all other brown people” strategy will be much of a benefit for them. ”

    It’s worse than that. It’s typical GOP ‘hey, we got a [insert derogatory term here], so how about all you [insert plural derogatory term here] vote for us, m’kay?’

  19. Barry says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “If an ostensibly Latino GOP candidate can’t pull any better than 35% in home turf like Texas, it’s time to think a little further about messaging than “hey, we have a brown guy!” ”

    It’s bee clear for about five years now that the GOP only uses a thin coat of messaging to cover their real plan, which is voter suppression. One of the counters to voter suppression is to pump turnout up.