Wednesday, January 16, 2008

LAS VEGAS — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in Iowa often talked tough about illegal aliens and called for them to learn English. But as she shifted the campaign westward, her language has softened.

Like the other Democratic presidential candidates, Mrs. Clinton tells crowds she favors “comprehensive immigration reform,” which includes securing the border, creating a path to citizenship and keeping families intact. As voters in Iowa, worried about the millions of illegals in the U.S., called for action, she earned applause by calling for the deportation of any illegals who commit crimes and for insisting they learn English.

But at stops in Nevada, where nearly 15 percent of the population is Hispanic, voters cheered her assertion last week that “No woman is illegal … and no man either.”

The issue of immigration has taken center stage in the lead up to Saturday’s caucus here. The candidates last night on MSNBC were set to debate issues affecting minorities.

As Mrs. Clinton knocked on doors as part of a canvass operation in Las Vegas on Thursday, a man shouted to her that his wife is illegal, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Her “no woman is illegal” response used language almost identical to that used by liberal Democratic Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich at an Iowa immigration forum less than two months ago, the same setting in which she was booed for not committing to give illegals a path to citizenship within the first 100 days of her administration.

Mr. Kucinich, of Ohio, told the crowd in both English and Spanish, “There are no illegal human beings.”

“We must give those who come to this country a path to legalization,” he said, to loud applause.

Mrs. Clinton, pressed twice, would only say the pathway would be a “high priority for me.”

“You’ve got to get Congress to pass the legislation, and the president to do as much as possible, which I will do,” she said.

On the Iowa campaign trail in a town called Nevada this fall, Mrs. Clinton said the government must “get people to come out of the shadows.”

“If they commit a crime, we would deport them immediately, put them on a plane, take them back to where they came from,” she said.

But in Nevada, where she held a “Juntos Con Hillary, Una Vida Mejor” rally (“A better life with Hillary”), she promises action and is openly courting Hispanic voters.

The Review-Journal quoted Mrs. Clinton as saying Thursday after the neighborhood canvass, “We’ve only talked to a few people, but each of them talk about some part of the problem we are confronting. This is a problem that is only going to get worse if we don’t address it.”

In her regular campaign answer to immigration questions, Mrs. Clinton often said that “demagogues” are degrading the debate, and she rattled off the specifics that would come with what she called an unrealistic process of deporting the millions who are in the United States illegally.

Among the unwieldy steps, she said, is “a convoy of 200,000 buses 17 miles long.”

“The smart and best thing to do is to ask people to come out of the shadows to register them,” she said in Iowa.

But Republicans plan to highlight areas where they see her flip-flopping.

Several operatives have cited a 2003 WABC radio interview with Mrs. Clinton. During the interview, she said, “I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigration,” and she called for people to “stop employing illegal immigrants,” citing as examples those who use day laborers for construction and yardwork.

Mrs. Clinton was widely criticized for giving a halting answer on whether she supported a plan to give illegal aliens driver’s licenses in New York.

After saying in a debate the policy “makes a lot of sense,” Mrs. Clinton responded in the next debate, “No,” when asked if she supported the licenses idea.

Mrs. Clinton yesterday won an endorsement from Hispanic leader Richard Chavez, the brother of the late labor icon Cesar Chavez. He said he backs her candidacy because she is committed “to create quality and affordable health care and to create fair wages for every American.”

Sen. Barack Obama released two Spanish-language television ads to be aired this week in Nevada.

“Do you remember the dream that brought you or your parents to this country?” a narrator asks in the ad.

“Hope — hope is what led me here today. With a father from Kenya, a mother from Kansas and a story that could only happen in the United States of America,” the Illinois Democrat responds. “Now this is your country. Don’t let anyone or anything take away those dreams.”

Another ad features Mr. Obama leading a crowd in the chant of “Si, se puede,” Cesar Chavez’s signature chant meaning “Yes, we can.”

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