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What moderate Republicans, who are appalled by Donald Trump, saw when they tuned in to watch the Democratic presidential debate held in Miami on March 8 couldn’t have made it easier for them to even consider voting for Hillary Clinton.
From the very beginning of the whole battle for the Oval Office, Mrs. Clinton was under pressure to tack to the left and win her party’s core supporters in her last planned TV debate with her populist rival Bernie Sanders. When faced with some big questions, especially immigration, she gave in to the pressure and expressed some radical positions, which we would expect to hear from the Republicans, not the Democrats.
Some of the pressure on Clinton stems from recent events – just 24 hours prior to the debate, she had suffered a surprise defeat in Michigan’s election, with Sanders winning thanks to the unexpected support from voters who told exit polls that they think free trade costs America jobs. Even though the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State is still on course to become her party’s nominee, her poor performance in a huge Midwestern state underlines her weakness among the trade-union members and the working-class white voters who have been steadily drifting away from the Democrats for years now.
A part of the pressure came from the main host of the debate, Univision, a Spanish-language television network, which constantly pulls in more viewers than some of the main American networks. They aren’t ashamed to call themselves a guide and an advocate for their Hispanic audience. Its star anchor Jorge Ramos takes pride in the fact that no politician today can win the White House without Latino voters – and openly seeks to extract a price for that support. Ramos has even gone as far as to call President Barack Obama a “deporter-in-chief” because of his expulsion of the millions of undocumented immigrants and other people who crossed the border illegally.
The Univision anchor repeatedly pressed Clinton to give her word that she would not deport two very specific groups: children in America without legal papers and the millions of migrants living in the country without criminal records but who lack a legal right to remain. Clinton attempted to explain on numerous occasions that her plan is to shield migrants from deportation by ensuring that child arrivals have legal help to navigate the asylum system, but Mr. Ramos wasn’t exactly convinced.
Their final exchange is something that will be quoted for quite some time in the future, particularly if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, as his plan is to round up and deport all of the 11 million migrants who currently live in the country without papers. Here’s what they said:
Mr. Ramos: But again, yes or no, can you promise tonight that you won’t deport children, children who are already here?
Mrs. Clinton: I will not deport children. I would not deport children. I do not want to deport family members either, Jorge. I want to, as I said, prioritize who would be deported: violent criminals, people planning terrorist attacks, anybody who threatens us. That’s a relatively small universe.
Mr. Ramos: OK. So, I want to be very specific. So you are telling us tonight that if you become president you won’t deport children who are already here?
Mrs. Clinton: I will not.
Mr. Ramos: And that you won’t deport immigrants who don’t have a criminal record?
Mrs. Clinton: That’s what I’m telling you.
In the spin room afterward, Clinton aides rushed to downplay the radicalism of the position their candidate had just taken and conceded that President Obama has struggled to put into action more modest executive programs which protect migrants who arrived in the country as children or those who are the parents of American-born citizens. Clinton definitely isn’t pretending that executing actions that protect 11 million undocumented migrants is as simple as people might think it is and she’s doing her best defending Obama’s programs, which is based on granting these people work permits, as well as Social Security numbers. After that, she would probably use the well-known principle of prosecutorial discretion to let federal agents know that residents who break no other laws and aren’t documented should not be targeted for removal.
Still, it doesn’t require a particular set of skills to see that her promise will be called a blanket amnesty. The trench dug by the conflict between Republicans and Democrats regarding immigration is a large and unfriendly terrain for centrist-minded voters. On one side, you have Clinton and Sanders who are fighting over who will help immigrants more and on the other side, you have Donald Trump and his chief Republican rival Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who are both open advocates of the mass deportations of illegal immigrants.