National Public Radio presidential debate

I want to play a bit of tape though of Amy Vybiral. She's at the Marshalltown Education & Training Center so she's somebody who deals with this in real time. And here's the policy that she follows as an English as a Second Language institution teaching immigrants.

Q I don't know their status and I don't — we don't ask. Let me put it this way. We ask a Social Security number of everybody who enters and we require it of no one. So it's not a prerequisite to attend the college.

MR. INSKEEP: Senator Clinton, if you're president in January of 2009, is "don't ask, don't tell," which is a way you could characterize her policy there, is that appropriate for people and institutions that receive government funding?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I agree with what Barack and Chris and Dennis have already said. It's the failure of the federal government that puts people like Amy into this position. I do not think we should be criminalizing her or expecting her to enforce the broken laws of our federal immigration system.

In fact, I spoke out very strongly against an effort that was undertaken in the House of Representatives to do just that, to basically say anyone who offered aid, comfort or any kind of service to someone in need, who turned out to be an illegal immigrant, was going to face criminal penalties. That is not in keeping with who we are as Americans. What is in keeping is having a government fulfill its responsibilities. That would be my highest priorities and that's what I would attempt to achieve with comprehensive immigration reform.

MR. INSKEEP: Although if a citizen witnessed some other kind of crime, wouldn't you want them to report it?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, you know, it's a very clever question, Steve. But I think it really begs a question, because what we're looking at here is 12 to 14 million people. They live in our neighborhoods. They take care of our elderly parents. They probably made the beds in the hotels that some of us stayed in last night. They are embedded in our society.

If we want to listen to the demagogues and the calls for us to begin to try to round up people and turn every American into a suspicious vigilante, I think we will do graver harm to the fabric of our nation than any kind of, you know, person by person reporting of someone who might be here illegally. I reject that. I think again you have to look at the failure of the federal government and the failure of our political system to make a change in how we should be enforcing our immigration laws. And that's what I will try to do.

MR. INSKEEP: Senator Biden.

SEN. BIDEN: I'd like to make a distinction here, and I agree with Hillary on this.

What Amy, as I understood the question, is doing is providing a service to children. There's 1.8 million children here.

MR. SIEGEL: Many adults as well, people learning English as a second language.

SEN. BIDEN: Okay, well, that — I just assumed she was talking about children.

There's a distinction, quite frankly, between providing a service and providing for you being able to make money by hiring someone you can hire cheaply in order to be able to make your business grow. I find a moral distinction there, number one.

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