POLITICS

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders hone in Latino vote ahead of crucial New York primary

On the steps out front of New York City Hall, Melissa Mark-Viverito – the New York City council speaker and fervent Hillary Clinton supporter – is lambasting the former secretary of state’s presidential rival Bernie Sanders.

Despite being just a few blocks north of Wall Street, Mark-Viverito isn’t comparing Clinton’s and Sanders’ stance on financial reform, banking or any other economic issue. Flanked by civil rights activist Dolores Huerta and DREAMer Daniel Padilla Peralta, Mark-Viverito is slamming Sanders for not supporting a 2006 immigration reform bill.

“While Hillary Clinton has been fighting for us her entire life, Sen. Sanders has not only been entirely absent from our community but has also stood on the wrong side of issues that are important to Latinos,” she said. “It comes down to this, given the option; Sanders turned his back on Latinos.”

New York may be the financial capital of the world, but it is also home to Ellis Island and a large, diverse immigrant population that both candidates appear eager to win over before next Tuesday’s crucial primary vote.

“New York City is a majority immigrant city and New York state has one of the largest immigrant populations in the country,” Thanu Yakupitiyage, the communications manager at the New York Immigration Coalition told Fox News Latino. “When you’re campaigning in New York, you can’t come here and not talk about immigration.”

Both campaigns seem to have heeded this warning.

Hours before Mark-Viverito and Huerta spoke at City Hall in support of Clinton, the Democratic front-runner pledged that if elected president she will create a national Office of Immigrant Affairs to coordinate programs and policies across both federal and state agencies.

The announcement by the former Secretary of State came on the same day that she received the endorsement of the New York State Immigrant Action Fund, a non-profit group dedicated to the advancement of immigrant rights.

Sanders’ camp has focused its efforts on deflecting criticism over the Vermont lawmaker’s 2007 vote against a comprehensive immigration reform bill spearheaded by then-Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy and on Clinton’s opposition to granting driver's licenses to New York's undocumented community, also in 2007.

“The narrative out there is that Hillary Clinton has been perfect on immigrant rights her whole career and that Bernie Sanders has either no record or a bad record,” said Bill Velazquez, the National Director for Latino Outreach for Bernie 2016, during a call with the media. “And that is something that needs to be corrected.”

Despite the banter back and forth between the campaigns, there appears to be very little separating the two Democrats when it comes to support among Latinos. The latest poll from the Public Religion Research Institute found that Latino voters nationally were essentially divided 48 percent for Sanders and 47 percent for Clinton.

Sanders campaign cited the poll as a sign of momentum among Latinos for his White House bid, while Clinton’s camp called the poll a "complete outlier" and highlighted her wins in Hispanic-heavy states like Texas and Florida.

In the end, however, the political grappling over their records is not what voters concerned with the issue want to hear, immigration activists say.

“We want to see action,” Yakupitiyage said. “Name slinging is just part of the political process but what we want to see is results.”

Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.

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