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Clinton Campaign Aims to Build Latino Firewall in New York


FILE - Georgina Arcienegas holds a sign in support of Latino voters in Florida, Jan. 12, 2016. The Clinton campaign has sharpened its focus on one of the most reliable strongholds it has in New York — the Latino vote.

FILE - Georgina Arcienegas holds a sign in support of Latino voters in Florida, Jan. 12, 2016. The Clinton campaign has sharpened its focus on one of the most reliable strongholds it has in New York — the Latino vote.

If the Clinton presidential campaign has accepted any advice this election, it's this: Take no vote for granted.

Coming off a fresh battle in Wisconsin — Hillary Clinton's seventh defeat of the last eight contests — the focus of the Democratic primary now heads east to New York, where the Clinton campaign is swinging hard on immigration reform, and with good reason.

Steadily, the former secretary of state and New York senator has seen her lead in the state over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders diminish from 21 points one month ago, to just 10 points today, according to a recent poll by CBS News/YouGov.

Amid trying times, the Clinton campaign has sharpened its focus on one of the most reliable strongholds it has in the state thus far — the Latino vote. She enjoys 75 percent support to Sanders' 19 percent, Clinton's single greatest base among any racial/ethnic group.

Throughout the week, the Hillary for America campaign has organized events among New York Latino legislators and elected officials to discuss Clinton's and Sanders' immigration records.

FILE - Supporters of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton hold up signs as they wait for her to speak at a "Latinos for Hillary" rally in San Antonio, Texas, Oct. 15, 2015.

FILE - Supporters of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton hold up signs as they wait for her to speak at a "Latinos for Hillary" rally in San Antonio, Texas, Oct. 15, 2015.

"Senator Sanders has not been there side-by-side with us, and that's why Hillary Clinton really is the best candidate," said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in a conference call hosted by Clinton's campaign. "She's always been consistent about her quest for equality and social justice."

New York Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) hit Sanders for his opposition to a 2007 comprehensive immigration reform bill, which included a path to citizenship for roughly 12 million undocumented immigrants — a vote Sanders warned at the time would drive down wages for low-income workers.

"At the moment when immigrants were being demonized, Sanders was playing for the wrong team," Velázquez said.

Amid the attacks, Team Bernie has not stood idle. The Brooklyn-raised Vermont senator has consistently defended his record, including a vote in favor of comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 and in support of President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration in 2014.

This week, Sanders issued a statement urging the president to halt raids against those who have fled violence in Central America.

"Raids separating families are not who we are," Sanders wrote. "Families deserve fair treatment and our compassion, not a process rigged to expose them to danger."

Counterattack

Pro-Sanders Latinos have been quick to criticize Clinton for her response to the 2014 surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America, in which she urged deporting recently arrived children in order to send a "clear message" to families: Do not send your children on such a dangerous journey.

FILE - Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. poses for photos after he spoke at Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Public Policy Conference at Washington Convention Center in Washington, Oct. 7, 2015.

FILE - Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. poses for photos after he spoke at Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Public Policy Conference at Washington Convention Center in Washington, Oct. 7, 2015.

Latinos for Bernie NYC co-founder Carmen Hulbert said that such a hardline stance on the issue shows that Clinton is not strong on immigration.

"Our children have to be protected," said Hulbert, a Peruvian-born citizen from Red Hook, Brooklyn. "Their children and our children should be on the same level. She just lost it."

Sanders by comparison, she argued, is an honest politician that "history has proven, defends the working class on issues of health care, education and raising the minimum wage" — matters she says are important to Latinos.

Hulbert's co-founder, Victor Ortega, agrees. He says that on economic and social justice, like immigration, Hispanics have a lot to gain from Sanders' proposals.

"They are interested in free education, free health care; anything that can allow those that have come to this country to provide a better life for their own children," Ortega said.

Immigration, economy, Trump

For many of New York's 3.7 million Hispanics — 1.9 million are eligible voters, 14 percent of state voters — immigration is essential, but so is the economy — and stopping businessman Donald Trump, who has proposed the strictest anti-immigration measures of any candidate.

FILE - People protest outside the Luxe Hotel, where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was expected to speak in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California, July 10, 2015.

FILE - People protest outside the Luxe Hotel, where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was expected to speak in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California, July 10, 2015.

Nora Gomez, a New York resident and self-described "Nuyorican" (New Yorker + Puerto Rican), describes the Republican front-runner as "scary." She says she is undecided between Sanders, who she likes for his "authenticity," and Clinton, but believes either will keep the country safer than Trump.

Clara Batista — a Dominican-raised Democrat who has spent 40 years in the Bronx — says her mind is made up. Clinton, she says, has the best proposals for Latinos and is the nation's best shot at preserving Obama's legacy.

"Obama is a good president and has done what he can," Batista said, "but we entered in an economic crisis, and need continuation."

Unity in November

Come the general election, Batista — like a majority of Democrats — says she will rally behind the party's eventual nominee.

Ortega, from Team Sanders, says he would not campaign for Clinton, but would urge Pro-Bernie Democrats to support her if necessary.

"The possibility of Trump winning scares me so much," Ortega said. "If Bernie loses, I say, well, put a clothespin on your nose, wear a Bernie badge — do whatever you do — but vote Clinton.'"

Hulbert feels differently.

"I'm sorry, no," she said. "I'm for real change. … It's Bernie Sanders or bust."

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