Hillary's Immigration Balancing Act in Iowa

Last night, during a question-and-answer session in the predominantly Republican town of Tema, Raquel Botello asked Hillary Clinton what she would do as president to prevent the painful situations in which apprehended illegal immigrants are separated from their young children. To put a face on the issue, Botello introduced Ivon Acosta, a nine-year-old girl wearing a red t-shirt imprinted with Hillary’s face.

The girl’s mother, who worked in Iowa illegally sorting corn, was arrested when she failed to present papers, Botello said. As a result, Ivon had not seen her mother for two months.

“I ‘m really glad you asked that, because I am concerned about the way this immigration issue is being used” said Clinton. “During the 1990’s we did not have this problem, or at least we did not talk about it and worry about it so much.”

Clinton at first seemed ready to address Botello’s question directly.

“Well what is happening to me and my family and it is a legitimate question because things are not going the way they should,” she said. “It’s understandable that people are concerned and they should be.”

But then Clinton, speaking more carefully and less sympathetically about the plight of immigrants than she did at a Las Vegas high school on Saturday (where signs read ‘Hispanos Unidos con Hillary’) told the more conservative crowd that the issue had become a political football. Tossing it back and forth, she argued, amounted to an absence of action and the maintaining of the status quo. She then explained her advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform “starting with homeland security.”

She called for tougher border controls and better border technology. “We want to know who is in our country,” she said.

In calling for a better tracking system, Clinton said as many as 40 percent of illegal immigrants in America had entered on legal visas but overstayed their welcome, “just like some of those hijackers who came here legally and flew those planes into the World Trade Center. We lost track of them.”

She added that better tracking was, “imperative to our security.”

She spoke about the economics and geopolitics of the issue and then the path she envisions to legalization.

“There are a lot of people who came here illegally and whose children were born in this country” she said, adding, somewhat vaguely, that separation “doesn’t seem the best thing to do.”

She never acknowledged the nine-year-old.

After the event, I asked Botello if she was satisfied by Clinton’s answer.

“No,” she said. “I expected a more humane answer. I was pointing out that this girl hasn’t seen her mother in two months, and she spent maybe five percent of her speech on that. I agree with all the border things she said, but they’re not all plane hijackers. They are normal people. I was disappointed.”