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Hillary Clinton Can Win Latino Vote — But Must First Fully Embrace Immigration Action

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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton entered the 2016 Presidential race this past weekend, and where she stands on both immigration reform and immigration action will determine if Latino voters lean into her campaign — or tune out.

As Latino Decisions has consistently noted, immigration is a “gateway” issue for the Latino voters. When 61% of Latino voters know someone who is undocumented, and another 85% of undocumented immigrants have a U.S. citizen family member, immigration isn’t just about policy, it’s personal.

As a consequence, what 2016 candidates plan to do about Obama’s executive action on immigration has become a litmus test for Latino voters. 89% of Latino voters support immigration action, yet Republican candidates for President have made undoing DAPA and DACA their only consistent platform.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean Latino voters dissatisfied with Republican will automatically shift to Clinton. While Clinton immediately tweeted her support following the President’s 2014 immigration move, she has not indicated if she will renew his actions if she assumes office in 2017. And, according to polling from Latino Decisions, her support among Latino voters absolutely hinges on this.

From Latino Decisions:

Following the news of her candidacy, leading immigration groups echoed the need for Clinton to show the Latino and immigrant communities she can commit to the President’s programs until Congress can pass a permanent solution.

From United We Dream:

“Our community expects any Presidential contender to aggressively defend and expand deferred action and make a firm commitment to reduce deportations, reform the out-of-control immigration enforcement agencies and use the full power of their presidency to advance and pass legislation to give citizenship to our entire community.”

From DRM Action Coalition:

For 4-5 million people with strong connections to the country and large voting communities who support them, whether that tweet indicates a support for this policy that will actually translate into continuing or even expanding it DAPA is their biggest question; for immigrant communities, it’s the litmus test, and we could use an unambiguous statement that cannot be “evolved” on.

While Clinton garnered widespread support from Latinos during her previous Presidential run (she received 63% of the Latino vote in the 16 Super Tuesday contests), and she spoke in favor of the Senate’s immigration reform bill, the booming demographics have shifted the political landscape since Latino, Asian, and immigrant voters handed Mitt Romney a resounding defeat in 2012.

58% of Latino voters reported they were more enthusiastic about voting for President Obama following his announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, while 57% reported they were less enthusiastic about voting for Romney based on his opposition to it. Immigration action stands to again play a similar role in 2016, and embracing or disowning it will be make-or-break for both Republican and Democratic campaigns.

In addition, on her initial foray into the immigration issue, while on her book tour in June of 2014 during the child refugee crisis on the border, she stated that the minors fleeing violence “should be sent back.” That statement struck immigration reform advocates as tone deaf, as did her September 2014 admonition to Iowa DREAMers concerned about executive action: “You know I think we need to elect more Democrats.“

As Frank Sharry told the New York Times: “Immigration is not the only issue, but it is the defining issue, and [Clinton] will need to learn that the old lines and old dynamics no longer apply.”