Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton picked up a key endorsement from the largest immigrant rights coalition in the country after unveiling a proposal to create a new federal office dedicated solely to immigrant affairs.
Clinton accepted the endorsement from the New York State Immigrant Action Fund in Manhattan on Wednesday, where she pledged to create formal channels designed to help immigrants integrate into communities across the United States.
The endorsement is a major win for the Clinton campaign in gaining support from a broad collection of communities that have roots across every continent. The group’s diversity mirrors the demographics of New York City, marking a boost for Clinton ahead of next week’s primary that extends beyond the burgeoning political power of the Latino voting bloc.
“This is a diverse community. We’re not Texas, we’re not California,” Steve Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Action Fund, told MSNBC. “Whether you’re talking about the Ecuadorian immigrants in the East End or Burmese immigrants in Buffalo, through that connection we have a deep insight to the unique needs of New York as a whole.”
Clinton on Wednesday took aim at Donald Trump, setting a direct contrast between herself and the Republican presidential frontrunner who has called to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Advocates and civil rights groups plan to carry out numerous anti-Trump protests this week as he campaigns through New York, calling on the candidate to end his increasingly inflammatory rhetoric against immigrants.
“Basta Donald Trump!” Clinton said. “Stop with the bigotry and all of the appeals to anxiety and anger.”
The addition of Clinton’s proposal for a federal immigrant affairs office also carves out some space, albeit incremental, between herself and her opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Little daylight currently separates the two Democrats’ agendas on immigration, which has left campaign surrogates on both sides in recent weeks to distinguish their candidates by going after their opponent’s records from the years that immigration was a major wedge issue.
“We have to look at Hillary Clinton’s record, and she has a record of standing for the little person,” said New York state Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages. “It’s great that we have a champion who is talking about positive immigration reform.”
Cities across the country with heavy immigrant populations, like in New York and Los Angeles, already have their own versions of an immigrant affairs office that helps coordinate localized social services.
But nothing currently exists on a federal level to link immigrants with programs to help people find adult education, language services, naturalization information, or enrollment options for children to attend public schools.
Instead, immigrant affairs are handled through a variety of different agencies under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security, which is typically better-equipped in handling enforcement of immigration laws, not social or family affairs.
Social services have largely been outsourced to non-profits and religious organizations. And while independent groups have established a vast network of immigrant services nationwide, many gaps remain in helping families integrate or receive their full due-process rights in immigration courts.
Clinton’s proposal builds on the findings from a task force created by the Obama administration 2014, aimed at studying how integration services could connect federal state and local governments better absorb new waves of immigrants.
Many immigrant New Yorkers, however, have a clear memory of Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign where she served as a catalyst in burying a statewide initiative to allow undocumented immigrants obtain driver’s license.
Then Gov. Eliot Spitzer had issued an executive action to greenlight the IDs for immigrants. At the time, immigration was a third-rail issue for many Democrats. And so when asked during a presidential debate what she thought about the measure, Clinton, then senator of New York, vacillated back and forth in a single answer, ultimately hedging heavily in coming out against Spitzer’s decision.
In 20/20 hindsight, Spitzer admitted last fall that the Clinton campaign then joining a mounting chorus of allies who pressured him to drop the executive action. Weeks after Clinton’s disastrous debate performance, Spitzer caved and rescinded the order.
“It’s something that I’m ashamed of,” Spitzer said on a podcast last fall hosted by David Axelrod, a former Obama advisor.
Asked whether Clinton’s past wavering on driver’s licenses would tarnish her evolved position now in support of IDs for undocumented immigrants, Lorella Praeli, Clinton's Latino outreach director, said Wednesday’s endorsement was a sign that the community knows the circumstances and politics around immigration have since changed.
“This represents the largest immigration coalition that has been active on these issues and they have chosen to endorse Hillary Clinton because of her record and her trajectory on working for these families and these communities,” Praeli told MSNBC.