By Juan Esparza Loera
Vida en el Valle
Question: What will happen if comprehensive immigration reform does not become a reality within the next year and half?
Senator Hillary Clinton: Well, I hope that we’ll be able to make some progress this year, perhaps on AgJOBS. That is essential for not just California but the entire country. I represent a lot of farmers in New York who are desperate for this kind of change.
I don’t know in President Bush’s last year whether he’ll be able to get anything done. I intend to start immediately if I’m fortunate enough to be president on comprehensive immigration reform. And I’m going to work as hard as I can on that because I think it is broken. This is not working for anybody except employers who get to exploit undocumented workers. That’s basically who it works for. It doesn’t work for anybody else.
And I think we’ve got a chance because I want to put it in very practical terms, you heard me say that out there. You know, all this demagoguery, this mean-spirited attack on immigrants and undocumented workers, OK, fine. Talk to me practically about what that means. And I think we’ll to make both the moral argument, the economic argument and the practical argument. And that is what I intend to do.
Q: If there is no solution to the immigration issue, who has the most to lose: The undocumented population or the American public? Why?
Senator Hillary Clinton: Both. Well, undocumented workers lose because they continue to be exploited, they continue to be abused, and unfortunately living in fear oftentimes, an insecure existence which undermines families, undermines employment and so much else. But the American public loses because this is not in keeping with our values as a nation. We are a nation of immigrants. We can be both that and under the rule of law, that is why I’ve put conditions on people being able to move to legal status.
And I will continue to put conditions because people did come without appropriate documentation and they shouldn’t be given advantages over people who came here legally. So, yes, there have to be some conditions met. But that is far better than this broken system that creates political demagoguery and mean-spirited attacks that I don’t think are in keeping with our character as a nation.
Q: Polls show you have strong backing from the Latino community. And a great majority of endorsements from Latino leaders. What do you attribute that to?
Senator Hillary Clinton: I have worked for many, many years with Latino leaders around the country. When I was a student, I was involved in the grape boycott, that goes back a long time. I have many deep friendships and working relationships. I was chair of the Children’s Defense Fund for many years and we did a lot of work on behalf of improving education and health care and job opportunities for Latino families, and particularly children. During my time in the White House, I held the first conference on Hispanic education. We brought lots of people into the White House to look at problems that were affecting Latino families. As a Senator, I represent a very large Latino population.
So I have both personal relationships that are very meaningful to me. I have a lifetime of commitment making changes that really matter to Latino families. My campaign manager is the daughter of Mexican immigrants who made their way to Chicago, and worked hard to send their six kids to school. So I just have a lot of connections. And I know how significant the contributions Latinos have been to America. I honor that. It predates many other groups that came to America, going back so far and we need to recognize that.
Q: Last year, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Mexican immigrants were not assimilating as fast as they should to America. Do you agree or disagree with that assessment?
Senator Hillary Clinton: Well, I don’t’ think you can make a general comment like that. I think the vast majority of Latinos by the second or third generation are totally integrated into our society. I do think it is important for everyone to be able to feel comfortable in work in acquire the skills of the labor force and society so that we give people really the opportunities to maintain their culture, their language but still be fully Americanized. That is the tradition of immigration in America.
And we have problems. We lose half of all kids from Hispanic families drop out of school before they finish high school. That’s not good for them and it’s not good for us. We have a lot of young people who don’t get the opportunities that they need to develop up to their God-given potential. That is why I want to start with pre-kindergarten and make it universal and do everything I can in the educational years and partnerships with families to give young people whatever chances they can have in life.
It is really a two-way street. Individuals and families have to be committed to giving their children the very best opportunities, encouraging education, supporting that; and our society, our school systems, our institutions have to be prepared and ready and helpful. So that’s what I want to work at.”
Q: So, basically what you’re saying is what is good for the Latino community is good for America.
Senator Hillary Clinton: Absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely. When people say to me, ‘Which Latino issues are you promoting.’ Well, the issues that people care about: health care, education, good jobs, the environment. These are the issues people talk to me about. But we have some special challenges in certain communities. That is true with a lot of constituencies that I represent. I have rural, white farmers who are upset about their futures. And I have inner-city Latinos and African Americans who want a better future.
So, we need to have general policies that are going to be good, like universal health care, for example. But then we also need to target. You know, I’m a supporter of programs like GEAR UP and TRIO that have been in the schools to help young people lift their sights to education. We need more anti-dropout programs, we need to work with families. We need to involve faith-based institutions and community institutions to send the message of staying in school and getting your education. So you work with different needs that people have. And because I have such a long history of working with Latino community, I have a lot of friend and supporters who will guide me and be my supporters in this.