That was the collective reaction of immigration-reform advocates on Tuesday morning, when Hillary Clinton’s campaign was quoted in a bunch of news stories previewing her call for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
“At this point, it’s not that big a deal,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, a group that supports comprehensive immigration reform.
If the biggest news from her speech is a call for a path to citizenship, he added, “you’re going to see a lot of eye-rolling from advocates saying, ‘That’s all you’ve got?’”
But it’s not 2008 anymore — or 2006, when Clinton, as a senator from New York, voted for a reform bill that included a path to citizenship. Support for such a path is pretty much the standard for the Democratic Party now — all senators who caucus with Democrats voted in favor of the 2013 “gang of eight” legislation.
In their eyes, she needs to go far beyond that, outlining how she'd defend and/or expand upon President Barack Obama's executive actions, as well as addressing concerns about treatment for undocumented immigrants in detention centers.
That’s the gist of the message immigration advocates plan to send to Clinton, the overwheling favorite for the Democratic nomination, throughout the campaign. They’ve toiled through years of waiting under the current Democratic president. And she hasn’t been as forthcoming as they’ve liked on the issue.
“I expect her to be way more to the left on immigration reform” than she has been, said Erika Andiola, an undocumented activist and the co-director of the DREAM Action Coalition.
Clinton will head to Nevada on Tuesday for the first time since announcing her candidacy for president last month. She will speak at Rancho High School in Las Vegas, where 70 percent of the student body is Latino. She will join a roundtable featuring undocumented students eligible for the DREAM Act, which shields many young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
A Clinton campaign official told Fusion that she will focus on immigration reform as part of one of the “four fights” that will come to define her campaign. Included in that focus on Tuesday will be a call for a path to citizenship.
The fact that Clinton will meet with DREAMers is a big deal, Sharry said. But to some activists like Andiola, calling for a path to citizenship won’t be enough to assuage the concerns of immigrant community. Clinton doesn’t have a sterling reputation on immigration issues, dating all the way back to the 2008 campaign.
Though she performed better than then-Sen. Barack Obama with Latino voters during her time in the Democratic primary, she was tripped up on a number of issues. She was vague, for example, when asked if she supported state policies that provided drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants — eventually saying she did not support the policy. (She has already said this time around that she now supports those policies.)
More recently, during the 2014 midterm-election campaign, Clinton continually wavered when asked if she supported Obama’s executive actions to shield as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
When Andiola’s fellow co-director at the DREAM Action Coalition confronted Clinton at a rope line in Iowa last fall about her support for the actions, she said only that the solution was to “elect more Democrats.” (In November, when Obama announced expanded deferred action covering more young undocumented immigrants and some parents of undocumented immigrants, Clinton put out a statement in support of the action.)
Supporting a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, while distinguishing herself from Republican candidates on the issue, “doesn’t really change much,” Andiola said. “It’s the same rhetoric and the same talking points we’ve been hearing for years.”
“We expect her to be bold. We expect her to be our ally, and to be clear on what she is going to do,” said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, the communications director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. “We expect her to not be coy about her positions. ‘This is what I plan to do and how I’m going to do it better than anyone else.’”
Sharry said a way for Clinton to “make a splash” would be to publicly recognize the complicated electoral politics and lay out what she’d do to support the 5 or 6 million undocumented immigrants who have not been potentially covered by Obama’s executive actions.
That executive power could be key for Clinton if she is elected president. Because she’ll still more than likely be working with a House Republican conference that refused to take up legislation passed by the Senate in 2013 because, in part, much of the conference is vehemently opposed to reform that includes a path to citizenship.
“That’s our goal. That’s our North Star,” Sharry said. “But we’ve learned the hard way that House Republicans can just block that shit.”
Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.