POLITICS

Hillary Clinton: Obama's Deportation Strategy Didn't Work

She says she won't break up families while pushing for immigration reform.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has promised to defend President Barack Obama's executive actions on i
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has promised to defend President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took a shot this week at President Barack Obama's immigration strategy from his first years in office, saying it wouldn't work with today's GOP.

Obama started out his presidency by deporting record numbers of immigrants in what ended up being a failed effort to convince Republicans to agree to immigration reform. But in an interview that aired Sunday and Monday with Telemundo News’ María Celeste Arrarás, Clinton said she wouldn't go that route.

The former secretary of state promised to push for comprehensive immigration reform "as soon as" she gets into office. 

"In the meantime, I'm not gonna be breaking up families," she continued, according to a transcript provided by the network. "And I think that is one of the differences. But I totally understand why the Obama administration felt as though they did what they did under the circumstances. But I think we've learned that the Republicans, at least the current crop, are just not acting in good faith."

Obama promised to push for immigration reform early in his presidency, but the legislative battle didn't begin in earnest until 2013, after he began his second term and the Senate took up and passed a comprehensive bill. Before then, deportation figures climbed every year and border security spending surged. Many considered the president's actions an attempt to demonstrate to Republicans that he was serious about enforcement so they would approve a plan that included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

It worked in the Senate, but the plan failed in the House of Representatives, which never took up the upper chamber's bill or any immigration bills not aimed at limiting Obama's authority or ending deportation relief programs. Regardless of deportation figures -- which have since dropped -- Republicans have said Obama is weak on immigration enforcement.

"It was part of a strategy," Clinton told Telemundo of Obama's enforcement record, according to the transcript. "I think that strategy is no longer workable. So therefore I think we have to go back to being a much less harsh and aggressive enforcer." 

Immigrant rights activist march on Pennsylvania Avenue as they arrive at the White House on Aug. 28, 2014, in Washington
Immigrant rights activist march on Pennsylvania Avenue as they arrive at the White House on Aug. 28, 2014, in Washington, D.C.

Obama ended up acting on his own on immigration twice: once in 2012 with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, for undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children, and again in November 2014 by expanding that program and creating a similar one for parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

DACA is currently operating, but its expansion and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program are stalled in the courts.

Clinton promised to defend Obama's executive actions on immigration and instruct her Department of Homeland Security secretary to conduct a review of the law within the first 100 days of her presidency.

Other Democratic presidential candidates have similarly promised big things on immigration, including continuing Obama's deportation relief policies and pushing reform through Congress.

Some Republicans, including frontrunner Donald Trump, have called for mass deportations or driving out the entire undocumented population, including the many immigrants with U.S. citizen children. Others, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, say undocumented immigrants should be allowed legal status, but no special pathway to citizenship. All of the GOP candidates have called for Obama's executive actions on immigration to be eventually abolished.

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