- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday as president she would push an immigration bill with a path to legalization that unites families.

“We’ve got to deal with immigration to be sure that we’re going to get back to doing what is right and smart in America,” she told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

“Yes, we need to strengthen borders, everyone agrees with that,” the New York Democrat said. “We have to, though, remain faithful to our condition as a beacon for people around the world seeking a better life.”

Three other Democratic presidential hopefuls attended the forum: Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska. They were given 15 minutes to address six questions. Mrs. Clinton, who gave a version of her stump speech touching on the themes of the questions instead of answering them directly, spent 63 seconds on immigration.

Mrs. Clinton was interrupted by applause during this line: “I believe we have to, as part of comprehensive immigration reform, create a path to earned legalization and I will continue to stand for that and advocate for that.”

She touted her efforts to make sure families weren’t disrupted by the Senate’s immigration bill. “Everybody talks about family values … let’s start valuing families and that means immigrant families as well as every other family,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton did not commit to passing immigration reform in her first term, a priority for the group, which works to educate new Hispanic leaders. She also did not directly answer all of the questions posed at the start of the forum, including how she would address anti-immigrant sentiment.

She did say she would “cut the Latino dropout rate in half,” spend $10 billion on universal pre-kindergarten and pass the Dream Act to give legal status to illegal aliens who go to college or join the military.

The former first lady received the warmest reception at the forum, followed by Mr. Biden, who said he supports a “reasonable path” for the 12 million illegal aliens in the country to become legal residents.

He added he finds it “offensive” that the immigration debate is “about ways to keep Spanish-speaking people out of the country” when the “majority” of undocumented aliens aren’t Latin Americans but instead come from such non-Spanish-speaking countries as Ireland, Poland, Japan and Indonesia.

Campaign manager Luis Navarro later corrected Mr. Biden — saying people who don’t speak Spanish are not a “majority” of illegals but rather comprise 40 percent.

“Our goal should be to protect American values: reuniting families, valuing aspiration, creating the system that gives people an opportunity to come here, pursuing the American dream,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Kucinich said the Spanish phrase “nosotros juntos,” which he translated as “we are one,” was the motivating ideal for his public service. “I not only believe it, but I live it,” he said, promoting his own nonprofit universal health care plan and his consistent opposition to the Iraq war.

Mr. Gravel said Hispanics have been “demonized” and illegal aliens are “not illegal” because all they have done is “risk their lives to feed their families.” But he got no applause when saying he would give all illegals green cards “immediately” to reward them for contributing to the economy.

Rep. Xavier Becerra, California Democrat who asked questions at the forum, said the 45 million Hispanics in the United States are the “largest and fastest-growing population,” and will matter most in such swing states such as Arizona and New Mexico in 2008.

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