Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton Jan. 7 courted Indian Americans and the larger group of Asian-American voters, telling members of the nation’s fastest growing racial minority that she disagrees with the “hateful rhetoric” of her Republican challengers.
“They forget a fundamental lesson about our great country,” she told several hundred people gathered in a hotel ballroom in suburban Los Angeles. “Being an open and tolerant society does not make us vulnerable. It’s at the core of our strength.”
Clinton’s campaign stop in the San Gabriel Valley, an enclave home to more than a half million Asian-Americans, marked the launch of her grassroots outreach to the growing pool of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, called “AAPI for Hillary.” Those voters have trended Democratic in recent presidential elections, though they are still considered up for political grabs. Their influence is considered critical in some swing states. California is not one of those, having voted for a Democrat for president every election since 1992.
Republicans suggested Clinton’s visit is more about raising campaign cash. “The reality is Democrats have long taken the AAPI community for granted, and Hillary Clinton will be no different,” said Ninio Fetalvo, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.
Clinton made her appeal to Asian-American and Pacific Islander voters in a Southern California region where a number of cities are now majority Asian-American and store signs in Mandarin and Cantonese line the streets.
“Their party identity is not cast in stone,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, an Indian American professor of public policy and political science at the University of California, Riverside. “There’s still potential for persuasion there.”
In a half-hour speech, Clinton told constituents she would be the one to fix the nation’s broken immigration system, improve access to higher education, and increase wages — all issues considered top priorities for the Asian American electorate. She vowed to reduce the visa backlog and help unauthorized immigrants with deep community ties that “deserve the chance to stay.”
“Ultimately this is more than an economic or political issue,” she said. “It’s a family issue.”
Nearly 4 million Asians voted in the 2012 presidential election, a 547,000 increase over 2008. According to exit polls, nearly three-quarters of Asian-American voters favored President Barack Obama in the 2012 election. They comprised about 3 percent of the total electorate.
The Asian-American community has been the subject of relatively little discussion in the Democratic and Republican primaries.
PTI adds: The group, called “AAPI Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) for Hillary,” was launched in Southern California in the presence of a large number of Asian American leaders, including Indian Americans.
At the launch, Clinton pledged to address the concerns of the community, including those related to immigration and visas.
In her speech, Clinton pledged to work to reduce the backlog for family visas to reunite immigrant families.
“Applicants from the Asia-Pacific region make up about 40 percent of the family visa backlog. Some from the Philippines have been waiting for a visa for 23 years. If you’re a U.S. citizen and your brother lives in India, it will take at least 12 years just to get him a visa,” the former secretary of state said.
“We have got to do more to help the millions of people who are eligible for citizenship take that last step. I will work to expand fee waivers so more people can get a break on the costs. I will increase access to language programs to help people boost their English proficiency.
“I don’t want anyone who could be a citizen now to miss out on that opportunity,” she said.She also explained the reasons for her early outreach to the community.
“That is essential because right now, it’s one of the fastest-growing communities in this country, but it’s a community that votes at a lower rate than others,” Clinton said.
America’s ties to the Asia-Pacific region have always been important, but in the 21st century they will be absolutely vital, she said.
“I was very proud when my husband’s administration launched the first-ever White House initiative on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders,” she added.
The United States, she said, is a country built by the hard work of generations of immigrants and America is stronger because of its diversity and openness.
She also identified Donald Trump – the Republican presidential front runner – in her speech.
“I disagree with the Republican front-runner, Mr. Trump. See, I think America is great because generations of hardworking Americans have made us great. Our values and our ideals have made us great,” Clinton said.