When 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton heads to a Las Vegas high school Tuesday to meet with immigrants, it will give her an opportunity to prove to activists that, for all she has said on the matter, she is serious – and that she’ll remain consistent in her views – about immigration reform. Clinton's past statements on the matter suggest a record of supporting reform, but to varying degrees, and depending on the issue.
In 2014, when President Barack Obama issued an executive order, which was later stalled by a court, to let certain undocumented immigrants remain in the country without fear of deportation, Clinton supported him. “I support the president’s decision to begin fixing our broken immigration system and focus finite resources on deporting felons rather than families,” she said in a statement.
That statement seemed relatively consistent with what she said six years before, during a debate with Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2008. Then, she said undocumented immigrants who had committed crimes should be deported, but that others, whom she deemed “the vast majority” of the undocumented population, deserved a path to legalization under certain conditions, including paying a fine and back taxes, as well as learning English.
In some areas of immigration reform, Clinton has flip-flopped. During her last campaign, for instance, Clinton said in 2007 that she did not support driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. This time around, however, she said she supports allowing states to grant such licenses.
During this campaign, Clinton may also have to deal with comments from long ago that Republicans have seized on, such as in 2003, when she, as a senator, said during a radio interview with WABC in New York, “I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigration.” She added, “People have to stop employing illegal immigrants,” the New York Times reported.
As a New York senator, however, Clinton co-sponsored legislation to give amnesty to undocumented immigrants working in agriculture. She does not support allowing guest workers for other industries, like hospitality, because, as she said during a 2008 interview, “There is a shortage of farm workers. This is a sector of the economy that over decades has been demonstrated to be very difficult to attract legal workers.” Pointing to farmers who were starting to shift production south to Latin America, she added, “It’s going to be a lose-lose for us if we don’t get that agricultural problem fixed.”
As BuzzFeed News reported, leading immigration activists want to hear that Clinton considers immigration reform not just important but an actual priority, an issue “at the top of her legislative agenda,” in the words of one activist. Others said they wanted her to be more effective than Obama, who they suggested had a legacy of broken promises on the issue.