Clinton vows to move on immigration in first 100 days

Meredith Shiner
Political correspondent

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton promised voters in Nevada she would pursue immigration reform in the first 100 days of her presidency. (Photo: David Becker/Reuters)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Thursday night promised for the first time to act on immigration reform within the first 100 days of her administration, if she is elected in November. The declaration came less than 48 hours before the Democratic caucuses in Nevada, a state where nearly 30 percent of residents are Hispanic.

“Absolutely. We’re going to introduce legislation,” Clinton told a questioner at an MSNBC town hall, when asked if her White House would act within its first 100 days on immigration reform.

Clinton’s commitment to move so quickly on immigration reform, which last failed to clear Congress in 2013, was news to immigration advocates, who had not heard it from her before. And it stood in contrast to opponent Bernie Sanders, who faced the same “100 days” question not even an hour earlier, and said, “I’m not a dictator here. It has to do with a little bit of cooperation from the Congress. But it is a major priority when you have 11 million people living in the shadows. I think we owe it to them to move as expeditiously as we can.”

Of course, a president cannot formally introduce legislation in Congress; a member of Congress must. But administrations can send suggested bills to allies on the Hill, and Clinton said she would work throughout the campaign to get a head start on issues like immigration and even judicial nominations. Clinton’s move to position herself as more aggressive on the immigration issue, touting swift legislation, is an outlier in her overall approach of attacking Sanders by insinuating that he is prone to make promises he cannot keep.

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Both Clinton and Sanders said they would continue President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which have delayed exportations of DREAMers — undocumented young people who are enrolled in school or enlisted in the military — and also of undocumented parents of legal children. The Supreme Court is currently considering a legal challenge to those executive actions.

On the two Obama executive actions on immigration, Clinton added, “I will go further if it’s at all legally possible,” though such a scenario seems improbable, given that the Obama administration lawyers likely sought the most aggressive path possible to act on immigration issues in the absence of congressional action.

Earlier in the day in Nevada, Clinton released an emotional ad featuring a 10-year-old girl who was worried her parents would be deported.

The clear courting of Hispanic voters, both through the “first 100 days” vow and the aforementioned “Brave” ad, is a shift in strategy from the Clinton campaign, which had caused controversy earlier this week by downplaying Nevada’s diversity in order to manage expectations for her performance against Sanders.

Allies to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a longtime Nevada lawmaker who pushed for the state to become one of the first to vote in this year’s contest based on its diversity, pushed back on the Clinton campaign’s assertions that Nevada was composed of mostly white voters, just like Iowa. Reid was in the audience Thursday night for the MSNBC town hall and was praised by both candidates, who have served under him in the Senate Democratic conference.

Reid is retiring, but Democrats hope that his successor as leader can rule a majority in the Senate again after the 2016 elections.

Clinton was not subtle about that goal and what role immigration issues could play in flipping the Senate’s control from Democratic to Republican.

She said that if Democrats hold the White House and win back the Senate, perhaps “Republicans will see the error of their ways" and “stop using immigrants to divide the country.”

After the 2012 election, when Democrats held both the White House and the Senate, the Republican National Committee released a report exploring why the party had lost and cited the need to move on immigration issues and reach out to Hispanic voters as key to the GOP’s electoral future.

Three years later, Republicans — and their base supporters — seem to have moved to the right of where they were even then. So it appears that last item from Clinton is also a bit of wishful thinking.