Clinton Sides With Party, Splits With Obama on Immigration Raids

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FUSION Presents The Brown & Black Democratic Forum
Obama's decision to round up undocumented immigrants in an election year put Clinton in a tough spot.Photo: Fernando Leon/2016 Getty Images

Hillary Clinton and President Obama may be on the same page when it comes to gun control, but the so-called “deporter-in-chief” put his party’s front-runner in a difficult spot when his administration began rounding up families that entered the country illegally over the holidays. Most Democrats view the deportation raids — which have already scooped up about 120 people who arrived in the U.S. after May 2014 — as an unnecessarily harsh tactic that expels Central Americans who should be offered asylum. Plus, from a political perspective, cracking down on undocumented immigrants in an election year threatens to erode the contrast between Democrats and Republicans (not that any liberals are calling for keeping entire religious groups out of the country).

Thus, on Monday night Clinton chose to not alienate her base over loyalty to her former boss. “I have come out against the raids, I do not think the raids are an appropriate tool to enforce the immigration laws. They are divisive, sewing discord and fear,” she said at the Iowa Black and Brown Forum. “We have to be sensitive and humane in the application of our laws.” As Clinton spoke with Fusion’s Jorge Ramos, her campaign released a statement that said, “We have laws and we must be guided by those laws, but we shouldn’t have armed federal officers showing up at peoples’ homes, taking women and children out of their beds in the middle of the night.”

Clinton added that the raids “have sown fear and division in immigrant communities across the country. People are afraid to go to work. They are afraid to send their kids to school. They are afraid to go to the hospital, or even the grocery store.”

When news of the raids broke just before Christmas, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley were quick to denounce them, with Sanders saying he was “very disturbed.” Initially Clinton only said through aides that she had “real concerns” about the plan and did not believe the federal government should be “conducting large-scale raids.”

Following the raids in Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina, maintaining a moderate position on the issue became increasingly difficult. Congressional Democrats have expressed their anger toward the administration, and are demanding a face-to-face meeting with the president. “You and your administration have upheld time-honored American values by offering refuge to those fleeing violence and disorder in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. We commend you for that,” reads a letter to Obama signed by dozens of House Democrats. “However, these same fundamental American values have not been applied in your administration’s policies towards Central American refugee mothers and children.”

Aside from the pressure Clinton faces from Democratic lawmakers, Sanders has given her new reason to clarify that she’s firmly with the left when it comes to immigration. Clinton has stepped up her rhetoric against the Vermont senator in recent days following reports that he’s gaining on her in Iowa and maintaining a small lead in New Hampshire. She highlighted other left-leaning aspects of her immigration policy on Monday night, saying she would ensure all unaccompanied minors are provided with legal counsel in immigration court and work to reform the asylum and refugee systems. She also voiced her support for Obama’s request for $1 billion to invest in Central America, to promote economic development and crack down on crime. 

Whether that’s enough to win over Hispanic voters remains to be seen. Jorge Ramos was still confused about how Clinton’s plan differed from Donald Trump’s, since she declared in November, “Look, I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in.”

After pledging not to use the term “illegal immigrants,” Clinton said she thinks border security and a plan for undocumented immigrants go hand in hand. Plus, back in 2006 she was merely voting for a fence — basically a smaller, less classy version of Trump’s majestic border wall.