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Hillary Clinton goes all in on immigration reform

Many Democrats expected moderation from Hillary Clinton's candidacy. She's instead quickly becoming a progressive champion.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton attends an event in Washington on April 22, 2015
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton attends an event in Washington on April 22, 2015
Before Hillary Clinton's remarks late yesterday in Nevada on immigration policy, reform proponents weren't entirely sure what to expect. As Rachel noted on the show last night, Clinton adopted a decidedly moderate posture on immigration during her first campaign eight years ago, and there was uncertainty about how far she'd be willing to go this year.
But as Alex Seitz-Wald reported, the Democratic frontrunner answered those questions emphatically in the Silver State.

In perhaps the strongest remarks on immigration of her entire career, Hillary Clinton vowed Tuesday evening to "do everything I possibly can" to help immigrants – including going beyond President Obama's executive actions to extend deportation relief to undocumented immigrants. [...] The Democratic presidential candidate hit almost every issue on the immigration reform activist's wish-list. She called for more humane detention practices, making it easier for families to plead their case for leniency, and took on the private prison industry. And crucially, she said she supported President Obama's actions to shield millions of immigrants from deportation – and promised to go do even more. "If Congress continues to refuse to act, as president, I would do everything possible under the law to go even further," she said.

According to the transcript made available from the Democrat's campaign, Clinton said during the roundtable meeting, "The American people support comprehensive immigration reform not just because it's the right thing to do -- and it is -- but because it will strengthen families, strengthen our economy, and strengthen our country. That's why we can't wait any longer, we can't wait any longer for a path to full and equal citizenship. Now, this is where I differ with everybody on the Republican side.
"Make no mistake: Today not a single Republican candidate, announced or potential, is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship. Not one. When they talk about "legal status," that's code for 'second-class status.'"
Dara Lind noted that Clinton's speech told progressive activists "exactly what they hoped they'd hear," and turned out to be "much better than they expected to hear." BuzzFeed's report added that the former Secretary of State "just won over much of the skeptical immigrant activist movement."
If this seems like a familiar political dynamic, it's not your imagination.
Remember, the fear among many on the left was that Clinton, without any real pressure from a primary challenger, would aim for the center and effectively run a general-election campaign for a year and a half. No one would pull the former Secretary of State to the left, so she simply wouldn't bother.
But as her candidacy takes shape, note how consistently she's positioned herself as a progressive champion of late. Clinton delighted much of the left, for example, with her remarks on criminal-justice reform last week. The Democratic base was equally pleased to hear about Clinton's 50-state strategy, her willingness to buck Wall Street, and her consideration of a constitutional amendment on campaign financing.
And now Clinton has done it again on immigration.
Some critics on the left will likely note, with cause, that she's adopted a far more progressive vision than the one she used to espouse. There's some truth to that, though where she is arguably matters more than where she was. President Obama has helped shift the national debate to the left a bit on many of these key issues; the Democratic coalition has become more unified around a progressive agenda; much of the American mainstream is far more likely to embrace the left's proposals than it was eight years ago; and Clinton has clearly evolved on these issues, ending up right where most of her party -- and much of her country -- want her to be.
To be sure, Clinton's candidacy is still quite new, and some of her positions lack specific details that will come into focus in the coming weeks and months. But with no significant primary pressure at all, the Democratic frontrunner is nevertheless positioning herself as the progressive candidate many in her party never expected her to be.