Immigration reform is continually being put off. It’s been delayed by Congress while elections were being waged, and reform before then was set to the side in favor of more pressing issues like the budget, which had the propensity to cause shutdowns. Following the large onslaught of unaccompanied minors illegally crossing the border last year and the media attention it inspired, immigration has seen renewed attention as an immediate concern.
However, gridlock in Congress, and between Congress and the executive branch, has resulted in a grinding halt on any efforts, with President Barack Obama’s deferred action program and executive action some of the only activity seen. Unfortunately, this has only served to widen the partisan divide and exacerbate bipartisan cooperation problems. As a result, the current environment makes 2016 an even more important year for immigration reform, because it’s clear that immigration reform will likely be waiting for another leadership change before progressing any further.
Hillary Clinton is thus far the leading Democratic candidate, and so far her policy preferences on immigration are in line with Obama’s. Indeed, Clinton has been openly supportive of both DACA and DAPA, and she has been vocal on the need to give immigrants who are already within the United States a pathway toward being full citizens. Hillary headed for Nevada on Tuesday to talk about such a pathway and how it should be approached.
Her stance on the immigration issue puts her in strong opposition to Republican opponents, and could give her an important edge with Hispanic voters. It’s clear this is a constituency that members of the GOP are eying with concern as well, which is why careful commentary has been made by candidates like Jeb Bush, who recognize the need to appear sympathetic while also avoiding alienation of the conservative right.
Clinton opposes the piecemeal sorts of legislation that some GOP members have been more supportive of. “I have been clear that I oppose the massive, flawed immigration reform bill passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate. I’ve been clear that the House will not take it up or engage in negotiations with the Senate on it,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio). “We will address this issue in a step-by-step, common sense fashion that starts with securing our nation’s borders and enforcing our nation’s laws.”
This method of reform might make for a more focused and cautious approach, but it could also open up more opportunities for disagreement and unrelated riders placed on bills. Republicans argue it would remove the risk of loopholes and weak oversight. Clinton is in favor of the former argument, and said during a speech at Rancho High School in Las Vegas recently that she would “fight for comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship,” according to ABC News.
“I will fight to stop partisan attacks on the executive action that would put Dreamers with us today at risk of deportation. If Congress refuses to act, as president I would do everything under the law to go even further,” said Clinton. “I want to do more to make sure that DACA and DAPA and all of hte changes that have occurred continue and would like to try to do more on behalf of the parents of dreamers who are not necessarily included.”
This is not a middle-of-the-road response meant to appeal broadly to independents and undecided conservative voters. Undoubtedly, Clinton is aware that by siding with Obama, she’ll draw much of the ire he’s already received for his executive action. However, this also serves to make her stand out as a candidate. It puts her firmly in opposition to others, shows where her lines are drawn in the sand, and makes it clear how she would pursue the issue, leaving her more easily held accountable.
This creates a problem for opponents who may need to disagree with her stance to retain their supporters, but who don’t want to go to hard on the attack given the importance of immigration to many voters. It offers a positive answer for those looking at Obama’s progress on immigration and recognizing that it has a short lifespan that can only be extended through the will of his successor. Depending who takes office next, America’s immigration system could go in an entirely different direction.