Hillary Clinton hails Latino efforts, urges immigration overhaul

Hillary Rodham Clinton embraces Henry Cisneros, former U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development, after he introduced her at a brunch benefiting the Mexican-American Leadership Initiative at USC.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Past and perhaps future presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton pressed Congress on Saturday to pass comprehensive immigration reform, which has been bottled up in the Republican-held House.

“You go around the world, we are so lucky as a nation that we have the talents of people from everywhere,” she told hundreds of people packed into a sold-out brunch benefiting the Mexican-American Leadership Initiative at USC.

“Our diversity is one of our great strengths, and part of the obvious argument for immigration reform is that we are a country of immigrants, and we should be celebrating that rather than fearing it.”

The event was attended by Latino leaders from across the nation, including three former Cabinet members -- Henry Cisneros, Carlos Gutierrez and Hilda Solis. Also in attendance were Sen. Barbara Boxer, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez, Democratic National Committee Finance Chairman Henry Munoz and Los Angeles Councilman Gil Cedillo.

Clinton helped start MALI as part of a State Department effort to tap for collaborative problem-solving those residents of the United States who trace their lineage to other nations. It was modeled on actions during her husband Bill Clinton’s presidency, when Americans of Irish descent helped spur the peace process in Northern Ireland.


The fruits of the collaboration include online tools for communities in Mexico, connecting students in San Antonio with their peers in Chiapas, and summer camps for at-risk children in Juarez, she said.

“That people-to-people connection, there’s no substitute for it and you are demonstrating that,” she said. “We have to continue to work to build those connections.”

Clinton recounted instances throughout her life when she had worked with Latinos, including helping care for the children of migrant workers with a church group in high school, registering voters in South Texas during the 1972 presidential election, and visiting Mexico as secretary of state. (Not incidentally, Latinos will play a critical role in electing the next president.)

She made no mention of politics, but Cisneros, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development during her husband’s administration, gave what amounted to a nomination speech when he introduced Clinton.

“From time to time on the horizon of American history, there appears a leader whose depth of understanding, whose proven experience and untiring dedication makes that leader precisely the right person for that time,” he said. “Such a leader is First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And such a time -- such a time is now.”

Clinton, who accepted another award in Beverly Hills on Friday night, headed to the Bay Area, where she was to give a paid speech to Realtors and then appear with daughter Chelsea at a benefit for the Clinton Foundation’s Millennial Network.


Twitter: @cathleendecker