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On Immigration, Hillary Clinton Engages in Some Straight Talk, While Marco Rubio Engages in Some Double-Talk

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Clinton Leans in on Driver’s Licenses; Rubio Tries to Have it Both Ways on Executive Action

When it comes to immigration on the 2016 campaign trail, we’re interested in having candidates from both parties clear up confusion by moving past vague talking points to announce concrete and positive immigration positions.  For Democrats, we’ve been calling on them to lean into the issue of immigration and recognize that positive pro-immigrant policies are a political winner, while understanding that the party’s past tendency to equivocate, avoid, or only emphasize enforcement when discussing immigration represents an old and counterproductive political mindset.

Yesterday, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton did just that by taking a step toward recognizing the new politics of immigration and embracing good, pro-immigrant policies.  As Elise Foley reports in Huffington Post, a Clinton campaign spokesperson responded to an inquiry on the topic of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants by stating:

“Hillary supports state policies to provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.”

The answer is especially notable given Hillary Clinton’s history on that very topic during the 2008 campaign.  As Foley highlights,

“Eight years ago, it was the topic of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants that first tripped up the seemingly inevitable presidential candidacy of then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).  During an October 2007 debate in Philadelphia, Clinton was asked whether she supported the efforts of her home-state governor, Eliot Spitzer, to pass a bill authorizing those licenses.  Spitzer was arguing that it would make the roads safer since undocumented immigrants with licenses would more likely to get insurance and cooperate with police.

But Clinton had fits with the question.  She said the New York proposal ‘makes a lot of sense,’ before adding that she did not support it.  Her Democratic primary opponents on the stage let her have it, accusing her of deliberate vagueness and of wanting to have it both ways on the issue.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “The unequivocal response from the Clinton campaign is a hopeful sign that her campaign will lean in and embrace the new politics of immigration reform, which, if continued and expanded upon, will help her mobilize Latino, Asian-American, and other pro-immigration voters.”

Meanwhile, Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio offered a reminder of how Republican candidates remain bedeviled on immigration, preferring purposeful obfuscation to clear answers.  As we explored in our recent report on 2016 Republicans and immigration, the GOP field is hoping to appeal to hardline conservatives in the primary without explicitly alienating general election voters as Mitt Romney did in 2012.  Sen. Rubio and his fellow contenders are mostly sticking with soundbites that leave essential questions about policies for undocumented immigrants open to interpretation.

Yesterday, in an interview with NBC’s Kasie Hunt and in excerpts of an interview conducted with Univisión’s Jorge Ramos, Sen. Rubio offered more confusion than clarity regarding his position on President Obama’s executive action programs, both last November’s DAPA and DACA expansion programs as well as the original 2012 DACA program for Dreamers.  For example, Hunt asked Sen. Rubio, “would you reverse the President’s executive order that allows some young people to stay here in this country?”  Rubio answered:

 “We’ll, that’ll eventually– I– I– I wouldn’t say that we would immediately reverse that one.  I’ve always distinguished that one from the first one, but I’ve always said that eventually that will not be the permanent policy of the United States.  It will have to come to an end at some point, and I hope it comes to an end because we’ve reformed our immigration laws … I wouldn’t [repeal DACA immediately] – and the reason why is it would be very disruptive.  You now have people that are working.  They’re in school.  They’re employees.  And suddenly overnight they’d be– illegally in the country.  But ultimately there will come a point where it will have to end, maybe not in six months but at some point it will have to end.  And that’s why there should be urgency about moving forward on immigration reform, beginning with immigration enforcement.  If we can prove to the American people that future illegal immigration is under control, I believe we can move quickly thereafter to modernize our legal immigration system and then deal with the fact that we have 12 million people in this country who have been here for longer than a decade who are here illegally.”

According to Sharry, “Rubio wants to have it both ways on immigration but can’t.  He pairs his opposition to executive action with support for Dreamers, yet he refuses to specify when or how he would end the DACA program.  Would he keep it until he passes a legislative fix?  Would that legislative fix be preconditioned on unachievable metrics and ever-moving goalposts?  Americans are looking for leaders who show leadership, not those who talk out of both sides of their mouth.”

Concluded Sharry, “These answers and these questions should not be just fodder for political pundits assessing the next election cycle – they are essential topics that affect hundreds of thousands of American and immigrant families” (See the Elise Foley piece for a reminder of how driver’s licenses can change a person’s life).