Democrat Hillary Clinton proposed a first-ever White House office on immigration Wednesday and picked up an endorsement from the political arm of a major New York immigrant advocacy group.
Clinton’s latest immigration campaign proposal and the New York State Immigrant Action Fund’s endorsement come just six days before the primary in New York, where there is a very diverse immigrant population and large minority electorate.
It also comes as her competitor for the Democratic presidential nomination Bernie Sanders has been trying to whittle her support by reminding voters of her 2007 opposition to the state providing driver’s licenses to immigrants without legal status. Clinton has since said she supports state policies to give driver's licenses to immigrants illegally here.
But Steven Choi, executive director of the fund, praised Clinton’s work on behalf of the state’s immigrants.
“As a former U.S. senator from New York, she understands our great state and has a track record of engagement with the 4 million diverse immigrants from all over the world who call New York home,” Choi said in a statement.
Immigrant Action’s board president Mary Chen elaborated on the track record praised by Choi. Chen said while a senator, Hillary provided “effective” constituent services for immigrants and was responsive to the immigrant communities’ needs and concerns.
Dan-el Padilla Peralta, an immigrant from Dominican Republic, said he was a senior in college at Princeton trying to apply for legal status in the U.S. He had been in the country without legal permission and his family had been too poor to apply for legal status, said Padilla, a lecturer in Classics at Columbia University in New York.
"We approached then Sen. Clinton and her office and she and her office were incredibly supportive," Padilla told NBC News Latino. "She and President (Bill) Clinton did further outreach to the director of (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) and really tried to impress on the service the merit of my application."
After announcing the endorsement, Clinton pledged to create an office of immigrant affairs in the White House.
That office would coordinate programs and policies across federal agencies and with state and local governments to address issues such as language, education and economic barriers that immigrants and refugees face and that prevent them from integrating into U.S. society.
In a roundtable meeting with immigrants, activists and Latino officials, Clinton announced plans for the office saying she wanted to “do much more to further the goal of integration” of immigrants and refugees.
Other proposals announced by her campaign included:
– Provide $15 million in competitive grants for community efforts to increase immigrant applications to naturalize and to apply for deportation relief through programs created through President Barack Obama’s executive action. The grants also could help immigrants find workforce training, education opportunities so they can integrate into their communities.
– Significantly increase federal “resources” for English language and citizenship education.
– Waive citizenship application fees for more immigrants.
In a later event at City Hall, civil rights and labor leader Dolores Huerta said Clinton's support for immigration reform is "nothing new."
"Her record in terms of supporting immigrants and the Latino community is not just today, it has been there many, many years," said Huerta, who has been campaigning for Clinton.
Erika Andiola, a spokeswoman for the Sanders campaign said the proposals do not offset Clinton’s previous support for deportation of children from Central America, opposition to the driver’s licenses for immigrants and her support for Obama’s deportation policies.
“We cannot forget what she’s done in the past,” Andiola said.
NBC News producer Brian Latimer contributed to this report.