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Hillary just took a stunningly aggressive stance on immigration reform

  1. Hillary Clinton's first campaign speech on immigration told activists exactly what they hoped they'd hear — and much better than they expected to hear — from the likely Democratic presidential nominee.
  2. Clinton promised Tuesday that she would not only support President Obama's executive actions to protect millions of unauthorized immigrants from deportation, but would expand them to allow more immigrants to apply for protection and work permits.
  3. Clinton said she wanted Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform with a "full and equal" path to citizenship, but also stressed that she'll take further executive action if Congress doesn't pass a bill.
  4. The executive actions President Obama proposed in 2014 are currently on hold because of a lawsuit over whether they're constitutional, but many are confident that the administration will win the court battle and the programs will be allowed to go into effect.
  5. Two of Clinton's potential Republican opponents, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, support allowing unauthorized immigrants to earn legal status, but haven't said that would lead to citizenship. And none of them has promised to allow the 2014 executive actions to go into effect.

Which unauthorized immigrants does Clinton want to protect from deportation?

Right now, young unauthorized immigrants who entered the US as children or young teens, and have high school degrees or are attending high school (otherwise known as DREAMers), are allowed to apply for relief from deportation, called deferred action, and a work permit. The Obama administration's proposed executive actions from 2014 would allow older immigrants who met those criteria to get relief from deportation, as well as parents of US citizens and permanent residents who've been in the US for five years.

Clinton named one particular group whom she would also allow to apply for protections and work permits: parents of the DREAMers who currently have deferred action. (The Obama administration refused to take its executive actions that far last year, saying they didn't think it would be within their legal authority.) But she also said she wanted to allow any unauthorized immigrant with "deep ties and contributions to communities" to come forward and apply for relief. Since a majority of unauthorized immigrants have lived in the US for a decade, that could cover a lot of people.

Why does it matter that she said this?

In order to win the 2016 election, Clinton's going to need high turnout from Latino voters. And the last several election cycles have provided plenty of evidence that it's much easier for a Democratic candidate to get high Latino turnout when she has the enthusiastic support of immigration advocates.

After the 2008 election, when Barack Obama promised to introduce an immigration reform bill in his first year in office and then broke that promise, immigration activists were deeply frustrated. And before Clinton announced she was running for president last month, they weren't enthusiastic about her, either.

They worried that Clinton would just say she supported comprehensive immigration reform in Congress, without talking about executive action. They expected her to endorse the executive actions Obama had already taken. They hoped she'd say she wanted to protect more immigrants through executive action. But they certainly weren't asking her to say, at the outset, exactly which immigrants she wanted to help.

Clinton had also said two things in 2014 that worried advocates: that Central American children who'd arrived in the US should be sent back, and that the answer to protecting unauthorized immigrants was to "elect more Democrats."

Both of those were things Clinton clearly tried to address in her campaign speech. She called special attention to the thousands of recent immigrant families who've been put in immigration detention — a signal to activists that she understood the problems with taking a tough approach to child and family migrants. And she couldn't have been more explicit in supporting executive action to protect immigrants if there aren't enough Democrats in Congress to pass immigration reform.

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