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Latino Immigration Advocates: What Hillary Clinton Should Say

Image: A girl holds up a banner while people take part in a rally to demand that Congress fix the broken immigration system at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey
A girl holds up a banner while people take part in a rally to demand that Congress fix the broken immigration system at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, April 6, 2013. EDUARDO MUNOZ / Reuters

When Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton talks about immigration during a campaign stop in Nevada on Tuesday, she’ll likely reiterate her support for comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship. But after years of frustration with Washington over the issue, Latino immigration advocates say Clinton must demonstrate that she’s willing to go further on the issue.

“We want to make sure that she’s not only saying the same things that Democrats have been saying for the past couple of years, which is just using the talking points that they support immigration reform,” said Erika Andiola, co-founder of the Dream Action Coalition. “We want to know whether or not she would be willing to use her executive authority if Congress still doesn’t pass legislation.”

A federal judge in Texas put a temporary hold on President Barack Obama's executive action shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation following a lawsuit brought on by 26 states opposed to Obama's actions. While the Senate passed a sweeping bipartisan immigration reform bill in 2013, the more conservative House has not taken up comprehensive immigration reform and some of its members have introduced restrictive measures such denying birthright citizenship to children of immigrants not legally in the country .

In Las Vegas, Clinton will participate in a afternoon roundtable discussion at Rancho High School in Las Vegas. She’ll meet with local Latino leaders, immigration advocates and undocumented immigrants.

Clinton’s campaign team said the discussion will focus on how to reform the nation’s broken immigration system “so we can keep families together.” The meeting will take place in a state that holds a 27 percent Latino population and has a high probability of being a toss-up state for the 2016 presidential election.

Andres Ramirez, longtime Democratic strategist from Nevada, said meeting with Latinos and some of the people most impacted by the immigration issue is a smart move by Clinton. He said it “certainly shows that she understands it’s a priority to Latinos in Nevada to solve this issue.”

Andiola said she welcomes the outreach from Clinton’s campaign. But she also worries about some of the comments the former secretary of state previously made on immigration.

One of those comments came last June when Clinton said unaccompanied minors who crossed the border “should be sent back” home to Central America, where many of them faced poverty and violence. Several months later, Clinton angered immigration advocates when she said voters “need to elect more Democrats” when asked what she thought about President Obama delaying executive action on immigration.

Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting in Las Vegas, Clinton’s supporters were quick to defend her stance on immigration.

“While Republican politicians have refused to act, Hillary Clinton has fought for comprehensive immigration reform, supported the DREAM Act, pushed in the Senate for expanded access to healthcare, supported Obama’s executive actions and so much more to ensure that necessary changes are enacted and progress on comprehensive immigration reform is no longer delayed,” stated Adrienne Watson, communications director of the pro-Clinton group Correct The Record.

NBC News spoke to a number of Latino leaders and immigration advocates about what they’d like to hear Clinton say during Tuesday’s meeting.

Eddie Escobedo Jr., who’s among those meeting with Clinton on Tuesday, said he would like to hear her say she’ll work to fix the legal immigration system so that immigrants don’t have to wait many years to enter the country legally. The issue is personal for Escobedo, as his sister-in-law has been waiting for more than five years—and expects to wait another seven years—for her residency application to be approved.

“That’s something that needs to be tackled and brought to the forefront,” Escobedo said about the legal immigration system, adding that he also sympathizes with the millions of undocumented immigrants who are paying taxes and contributing to the economy. He said they should be put on a path to citizenship.

Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said he hopes Clinton will address what she would do with the undocumented immigrants who were left out of Obama’s executive actions.

“Is she going to deport them?” Alvarado said. “I wish she could come out and say, ‘I’m going to go beyond what the president has done.’”

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Meanwhile, Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said he hopes Clinton will commit to ending the practice of family detention, something he said worries religious leaders. “Catholic leaders and pastors across the country have questions about why we are detaining mothers and children at facilities that are designed for criminals,” he said.

Clarissa Martinez -De-Castro of the National Council of La Raza said her group sees Tuesday’s meeting as an opportunity for Clinton to distinguish herself from the Republican presidential candidates. While some GOP candidates have come out in support of the need to tackle immigration reform - Jeb Bush recently said undocumented immigrants deserve legal status - others have taken a tougher stance on the issue.

“Candidates on the other side of the aisle seem to be having a really hard time getting themselves on the side of where the American public is on immigration,” Martinez said. “So there’s an opportunity for her to take a leadership position on this, and we hope that she does.”