Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton bowed to pressure from Hispanic activists Tuesday and apologized for using the term “illegal immigrants” at a town hall earlier this month.
Mrs. Clinton said it had been a “poor choice of words.”
Mrs. Clinton has been pressed to retract her use of a term that offends people who entered the U.S. illegally, according to Hispanic activists who are demanding expanded immigration rights and citizenship for the country’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.
She was prodded into an apology during a Facebook question-and-answer session hosted by the Spanish-language TV network Telemundo. The question came from Jose Antonio Vargas, a filmmaker and journalist whose organization, Define America, has led the charge to remove the term “illegal immigrants” from presidential campaigns.
Mr. Vargas asked Mrs. Clinton if she would stop using the term.
“Yes, I will,” Mrs. Clinton responded while logged in to Facebook during a stop in Boulder, Colorado. “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.”
Dreamers refers to illegal immigrants who were brought into the country as children and grew up in the United States. Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, these illegal immigrants are eligible for a renewable two-year work permit and exempt from deportation.
Mrs. Clinton uttered the descriptor for people who enter the U.S. illegally during a town hall meeting in New Hampshire.
Defending her record on border security, the former first lady, senator and secretary of state said that she voted numerous times “to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in. And I do think you have to control your borders.”
The support for the fence is galling enough to immigrant-rights advocates, but her use of the term “illegal immigrants” landed her in more hot water.
The Dream Action Coalition, a group advocating an end to deportations, said at the time that it sounded like Mrs. Clinton was having an “identity crisis.”
“Not only is Hillary’s casual use of the word ‘illegal’ offensive and dismissive, it shows us that she is out-of-touch with the community she claims to be advocating for by reducing them to a derogatory term,” said Hina Naveed, co-director of Dream Action Coalition. “There is no room to uplift a community when the conversation begins by taking away their identity.”
Two founders of Dream Action Coalition, who are no longer with the group, have taken jobs with Mrs. Clinton’s top competitor for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernard Sanders.
In her campaign for the White House, Mrs. Clinton has promised to fulfill a wish list of activists who want an end to deportations and citizenship for illegal immigrations.
She has proposed expanding President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, implement reforms to immigration laws and open a pathway to citizenship for most illegal immigrants.
Mrs. Clinton’s apology coincided with Mr. Sanders releasing his immigration agenda. He described it as a platform for creating a “humane” immigration system.
He promised that within his first 100 days as president that he would expand Mr. Obama’s executive actions. The executive actions, however, have been halted by courts while the legitimacy of the actions are litigated.
Mr. Sanders, a Vermont independent and avowed socialist, said that he would allow all undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for at least five years to stay without threat of deportation. He said that would cover nearly 9 million illegal immigrants.
Furthermore, he would pursue a complete overhaul of immigration laws and open a path to citizenship for current illegal immigrants.
The anti-deportation group #Not1More called Mr. Sanders’ plan “the most sweeping proposal for humane policy we’ve seen to date.”
The gushing praise for Mr. Sanders’ plan underscored the tentative relationship Hispanic activists have with Mrs. Clinton.
“The platform sets a floor for Democratic candidates in the debate to address the historic suffering that immigrants have faced in this country,” said Marisa Franco, director of #Not1More.