Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday night that illegal immigration wasn’t dividing the country during her husband’s presidency like it is today.
Clinton, addressing an overflow crowd at a campaign stop in western Iowa, said people weren’t as concerned with immigration “because we had a growing economy with 22 million new jobs, people were working more, people were lifted out of poverty.”
She said that since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the nation must focus on security and the economy to curb the divisiveness associated with illegal immigration.
“We have to put more Americans to work and give them good jobs and rising incomes and universal health care,” Clinton said as the crowd erupted into applause. She said the United States must also do more to get Mexico and other countries to the south “to create more jobs for their own people.”
“They have got to have the economic policy to put people to work,” she said.
Clinton said deporting all illegal immigrants isn’t the answer, and she asks tough questions of people supporting such tactics.
“How are you going to find 12 to 14 million people No. 1?” she said. “And do you know how much money it would cost to round them up?"
While she said the recent proposal in Congress wouldn’t have been her exact choice for immigration reform, she said “it was a way of trying to deal with reality.”
“We have a couple of options here,” she said. “We can continue to do nothing, and that’s pretty much what we’re doing right now ... or we can try to cope with the reality of immigration and get people out of the shadows.”
She added: “I want to know who they are, I want to have them on a registry, I want to deport the criminals. You will not get 12 to 14 million people to come out of the shadows who think if they come out of the shadows they will be deported.”
Once illegal immigrants come out, Clinton said they will have new responsibilities.
“You’ve got to make them pay back taxes, you’ve got to make them pay fines, you’ve got to try to get them to learn English, they’ve got to stay in line and keep working and be productive and stay out of trouble,” she said.
During a stop earlier in the day in Dubuque, Clinton defined herself in sharply populist terms. She became the latest of the presidential candidates to align themselves with the trust-busting days of President Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1900s.
“America was a country filled with haves and have-nots with not too many people in between,” Clinton said. “In response to those excesses, a progressive movement was formed and they understood that the welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally on the welfare of all of us.”
On Tuesday, Clinton began running a new television commercial in Iowa that argues that many Americans in need are “invisible” to President Bush, who caters to the wealthy. She built on the theme in her speech and vowed to reverse that course.
“I consider myself a thoroughly optimistic and modern progressive, and we need a new progressive vision for America,” said Clinton. “I believe we can grow our economy in the face of global competition and do it in a way that benefits all Americans.”
The White House has criticized Clinton for her new television commercials, but Clinton made a point of returning to the themes in the ad.
“You’re not invisible to me,” she said. “When I’m president there will be no invisible Americans. You will be an army of very visible citizens at the forefront of the changes we need.”
Peggy Gaul, of Walnut, was wearing a bright orange National Rural Letter Carriers Association T-shirt, and said she was in Council Bluffs to hear Clinton talk about issues that affect her directly.
“I am middle class, I am concerned about the middle class, and how she feels about working people and giving them a fair shake,” Gaul said. “The working environment for the last few years has been not very supportive of labor, and I would like to see that change.”
Clinton was opening a two-day campaign trip to Iowa and will join other Democrats for a nationally televised debate Sunday at Drake University in Des Moines.