Hillary Clinton on Immigration

Why the Former First Lady Has Come Under Fire From Undocumented Immigrants

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton held a conversation on immigration at Los Angeles Mission College Culinary Arts Institute on June 4, 2016. Brooks Kraft / Getty Images

Hillary Clinton supports a path to citizenship for the millions of people living in the United States illegally because it would be impractical to deport them all. She has said, however, that those who have committed crimes while living American illegally should not be permitted to stay here.

Clinton has said she favors "humane, targeted, and effective" enforcement of the laws against illegal immigration in the United States. Her presidential campaign has said she believes deportation should be used only on "individuals who pose a violent threat to public safety."

During the 2016 presidential campaign, she defended President Barack Obama's controversial executive action on immigration, which would have allowed as many as five million people living in the United States illegally temporary, quasi-legal status and work permits.

"We need comprehensive immigration reform with a path to full and equal citizenship," Clinton said in January 2016. "If Congress won't act, I'll defend President Obama’s executive actions — and I'll go even further to keep families together. I'll end family detention, close private immigrant detention centers, and help more eligible people become naturalized."

Obama's program, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, was essentially put on hold by a June 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Clinton on Banning Muslims

Clinton has also voiced opposition to a proposal by 2016 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States. Trump said his proposal was meant to prevent terrorist attacks on the homeland. But Clinton called the idea dangerous.

“It goes against everything we stand for as a nation founded on religious liberty,” Clinton said. “He’s turned Americans against Americans, which is exactly what ISIS wants.”

Apology for Using the Term Illegal Immigrants

Clinton apologized in 2015 for using the term "illegal immigrants," which is considered dehumanizing. She used the term while speaking about securing the United States border with Mexico. "Well, I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in," Clinton said. 

She apologized when asked about her use of the term, saying: "That was a poor choice of words. As I've said throughout this campaign, the people at the heart of this issue are children, parents, families, DREAMers. They have names, and hopes and dreams that deserve to be respected," Clinton said. 

Controversy Over Clinton's Position on Immigration

Clinton's position on immigrant hasn't been as consistent as it seems. She has come under fire from some Hispanics over her support of candidates who are viewed as unfriendly to establishing a pathway to citizenship. 

As first lady under President Bill Clinton, she was on record as supporting the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which expanded the use of deportation and limited conditions under which it could be appealed.

She has also opposed the idea of giving driver's licenses to people living in the United States illegally, a position that drew some criticism. "They are driving on our roads. The possibility of them having an accident that harms themselves or others is just a matter of the odds," Clinton has said.

Clinton said during her run for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination that she supports granting citizenship to people living here illegal if they meet certain conditions including paying a fine to the government, paying back taxes, and learning English.

This was Clinton's position on illegal immigration from a debate with then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama during the Democrat primary campaign in 2008:

"If we take what we know to be the realities that we confront - 12 to 14 million people here - what will we do with them? I hear the voices from the other side of the aisle. I hear the voices on TV and radio. And they are living in some other universe, talking about deporting people, rounding them up.
"I don't agree with that and I don't think it's practical. And therefore what we've got to do is to say, 'Come out of the shadows, we will register everyone, we will check, because if you have committed a crime in this country or the country you came from then you will not be able to stay. You will have to be deported.
"But the vast majority of the people who are here, we will give you a path to legalization if you meet the following conditions: pay a fine because you entered illegally, be willing to pay back taxes over time, try to learn English - and we have to help you do that because we've cut back on so many of our services - and then you wait in line."