She sticks close to Obama on most issues, but criticizes him from the left on this issue.
This week, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton’s criticism of plans to round up Central American women and children who crossed into the U.S. highlights once again that on this issue, she would outflank President Obama to the left.
It is not the first time Clinton has distanced herself from Obama on immigration.
Responding to reports that U.S. immigration officials are planning a series of raids this month and the next to deport hundreds of people, Clinton issued a statement reiterating that she opposes “large-scale raids that tear families apart and sow fear in communities” across the country.
“I am concerned about recent news reports, and believe we should not be taking kids and families from their homes in the middle of the night,” she said in the statement. “Large-scale raids are not productive and do not reflect who we are as a country.”
Clinton has worked strenuously during her primary campaign against Sen. Bernie Sanders to associate herself with Obama, who remains popular among Democratic Party primary voters. She has described herself as the candidate best positioned to carry on his legacy, and has blasted Sanders as disloyal for criticisms that the president is insufficiently progressive.
Not on immigration, however.
“At least from her campaign statements, she’s trying to out-Obama Obama,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington think tank that advocates tighter immigration enforcement.
It is not the first time Clinton has distanced herself from Obama on immigration. She has repeatedly pledged to go further than his 2014 executive actions shielding almost five million illegal immigrants from deportation. And she criticized an earlier series of raids that were carried out in January.
But Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism for NumbersUSA, said both administration officials and immigration advocates greatly exaggerated the impact of those raids. Immigration officials took only 121 people into custody and ended up actually deporting a smaller portion of that number.
“These deportation raids are more for show than anything else,” he said.
Chmielenski said the administration likely hopes that publicity from the raids will help discourage a new surge of unaccompanied minors, who flooded the border in the summer of 2014.
“Probably the last thing Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton want is a lot of media attention on that,” he said. “Both Hillary and President Obama do understand the optics of it.”
Even as the administration prepares for raids, first reported by Reuters, it has been laying the groundwork with the United Nations to explore the possibility of admitting the children and their mothers as refugees — even though few would probably meet the criteria of refugees under international law. For his part, Sanders urged Obama to use his executive powers to extend “Temporary Protective Status” to the arrivals from Central America. That would give them residency and work permits for a limited time period — but that status can be renewed an infinite number of times.
Clinton’s position has evolved along with the stiffer-than-expected challenge from Sanders for the Democratic nomination for president. In 2014, she said children amassing at the border should be sent home. Last year, she amended her position to say that each of the children should be afforded “due process” before deportation. She came out against deportation in January.
“Clearly, she’s still getting beat by Bernie Sanders. She hasn’t solidified her base,” said Ira Mehlman.
That seemed to make more sense politically when she was still engaged in a competitive primary fight. But with the nomination all but locked up, some observers expressed surprise that she is not trying to strike a more moderate stance for the general election. Mehlman said she might still be looking over her shoulder at Sanders, who continues to claim primary victories.
“Clearly, she’s still getting beat by Bernie Sanders,” he said. “She hasn’t solidified her base.”
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said Clinton could also be thinking of her position as a way to excite Hispanic voters in a matchup against Donald Trump.
“Now, she sees it even as a general election tactic, because, you know, they’re looking at the same polls that we’re seeing, with Trump basically even with her nationally,” he said. “Initially, they probably assumed they wouldn’t even have to break a sweat … Hillary sees these positions that are even more radical than Obama as having no cost for her politically — no downside but a lot of upside.”
Krikorian added, however, that Clinton runs the risk of provoking a backlash that could hurt her in crucial states like Pennsylvania and Ohio.