She is the presumed favorite of Latino voters and, today in Las Vegas, Hillary Clinton doubled down on what is seen as a gateway issue for that voting bloc.
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At a campaign event today, her third since announcing she's running for president, Clinton made immigration reform a defining issue, and on Cinco de Mayo, no less.
Latino leaders consulting her campaign have told ABC News that Clinton is looking for a way to clearly contrast herself with Republican presidential candidates by embracing the full path to citizenship rather than proposing a second class of Americans who can work in the United States but not enjoy the protection of citizenship.
Clinton made the argument that comprehensive immigration reform “strengthens families, strengthens our economy, and strengthens 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.”
Clinton also took an aggressive stance against Republicans.
“Now this is where I differ with everybody on the Republican side,” she said. “Make no mistakes. 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 is code for second-class status,” she added.
She added that her time as Secretary of State showed her the difference of countries that include “second-class status.”
“They never feel they belong or have allegiance…that is a recipe for divisiveness and even disintegration… we are a nation of immigrants,” she said. “Those who say, we can do reform but not a path to citizenship, would be fundamentally undermining what has made American unique… not just in my view the right thing to do for America, if you compare us to other countries.”
And while she said she was unsure if it would be among her first moves if elected president, she did say it would be a priority.
Clinton, speaking at Rancho High School in Las Vegas, where 70 percent of students are Hispanic added that if no action taken, she wouldn’t be adverse to executive authority.
“I will fight for comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship,” she said. “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.”
Last November, President Obama chose a Las Vegas high school to lay out his plans for immigration reform.
Clinton also promised to extend the DREAMer program to undocumented parents of children born in the United States (as President Obama's proposed DAPA program would do) and responded to pushes by immigrant groups to expand protections to parents of DREAMers.
“We have a lot of these blended families,” she said. “I want to do more to make sure that DACA and DAPA and all of the 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.”
She also outlined support for reforms to the detention process currently in place.
“I don’t think we should put children and vulnerable people into the detention facilities bc I think they are at risk—their physical and mental health are at risk,” she said.
She also outlined her support for president Obama’s executive actions and her desire to support his reforms and “then still try and go further”—including family reunification, a desire of many immigrant activists groups.
“Reunification should be one of our goals in comprehensive immigration reform,” she said. “In absence of finally passing comprehensive immigration reform a lot of families have been broken up.”
While Clinton has tweeted her support for President Obama's expanded DACA and DAPA programs, activists have wanted her to take it further. Last fall, Clinton was largely silent on the issue. When asked about the by DREAMers in September about the president's use of executive authority to push immigration reform, she replied, "Elect more Democrats." While Clinton is believed to be ahead in the Hispanic vote -- she won 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2008 primary -- Latino groups will be listening today for a timetable for implementation of these changes. President Obama has been faulted with moving too slowly during his first term when he had a Democratic majority and failed to pass immigration reform.
Latino groups also say they will listen for consistency in Clinton's campaign, concerned that what happens in Vegas today on immigration doesn't just stay in Vegas but is also promised in Iowa and other primary states.