New York Times (Editorial)
February 12, 2016
Mrs. Clinton’s Mixed Immigration Message
In Thursday night’s Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton defended her past statements that Central American migrant children needed to be sent home from the border to “send a message” to other families: Don’t come.
Wrong answer — which Bernie Sanders immediately pointed out.
“Who are you sending a message to?” he said, reminding her that mothers and children were fleeing Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to avoid being murdered. “I don’t think we use them to send a message. I think we welcome them into this country and do the best we can to help them get their lives together.”
The sharp exchange on refugees was a welcome break from the Democrats’ one-note squabbling over who is a progressive and who hates the banks more. The border is a subject of manic intensity on the Republican side, but Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton have not been talking about it much. They generally agree that President Obama’s enforcement policies have been too harsh, and they promise to do more than he did to help immigrants live and work without fear of deportation. On the trail, though, they have not always led with this information.
Over the years, Mrs. Clinton has shown an unfortunate tendency to oscillate between harshness and compassion on immigration questions. She seems to reach instinctively for the tougher-sounding policy before coming around, eventually, to positions that more closely reflect American ideals of welcome — ideals that Mr. Sanders voiced fluently on Thursday night.
Running for president in 2008, Mrs. Clinton gave a muddled answer to a debate question about driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. She later clarified — she would oppose such driver’s licenses as president — and then, more recently, decided that she supports them after all.
It was after the number of Central American migrant children at the border spiked in 2014 that she said they should be sent back to send a message. “Just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay,” she said. Now she says children should have access to lawyers and not be held in family prisons, but she was tripped up again by her “send a message” line.
Mrs. Clinton now has an opportunity to clarify her message: Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, introduced a bill on Thursday that would help to guarantee due process for border refugees. It would require the attorney general to appoint lawyers for unaccompanied children and others who are vulnerable, like victims of abuse or torture and those with disabilities. The Department of Homeland Security would have to make sure that all migrants had access to counsel, knew their rights and obligations, and understood what was happening to them. The bill seeks to correct the appalling injustice of refugee children facing court proceedings alone and being deported back to grave danger at home.
The border influx was a humanitarian emergency before it became a concocted homeland-security crisis and political pickle. It will take courage, and require a lot of money, for the country to stand up for the rights of the uninvited and desperate. Volunteer lawyers and advocacy organizations have struggled mightily to provide representation for migrants who face the real threat of death if their asylum claims fail.
Mrs. Clinton tweeted in favor of the Reid bill on Thursday night. If she means what she says about herself — that she is all about tackling difficult problems and helping those most in need — she will go all in to support Mr. Reid’s effort, and let the world know it.
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