This item has been updated.
Hillary Clinton says that Republican presidential candidates "range across a spectrum of hostility" when it comes to immigration and that her campaign will advocate for comprehensive reforms.
Sitting on Tuesday for her first national television interview as a declared presidential candidate, the Democratic frontrunner lumped together all GOP candidates when asked by CNN about Donald Trump's recent comments about Mexican immigrants. Interviewer Briana Keilar asked Clinton what she made of Trump's comments, noting that he had been a donor to some of her previous campaigns.
"I’m very disappointed in those comments and I feel very bad and very disappointed with him and with the Republican Party for not responding immediately and saying 'Enough, stop it,' " she said. "But they are all in the same general area on immigration. They don’t want to provide a path to citizenship. They range across a spectrum of being either grudgingly welcome or hostile toward immigrants. And I’m going to talk about comprehensive immigration reform. I’m going to talk about all the good, law-abiding, productive members of the immigrant community that I personally know, that I’ve met over the course of my life. That I would like to see have a path to citizenship."
Clinton added that no Republican candidate supports establishing a system that would allow eligible illegal immigrants to eventually apply for citizenship. But Keilar noted that Bush has previously supported such a system.
Clinton shot back: "He doesn’t believe in a path to citizenship. If he did at one time, he no longer does."
She added that Republicans are "on a spectrum of hostility, which I think is really regrettable in a nation of immigrants like ours. All the way to kind of grudging acceptance but refusal to go with a pathway to citizenship. I think that's a mistake."
In his 2013 book "Immigration Wars," Bush laid out a specific set of criteria that illegal immigrants — adults and children — would need to meet to apply for legal status and in limited circumstances, perhaps citizenship. He has more recently suggested that citizenship could be extended only as part of a bipartisan agreement that included changes in U.S.-Mexico border security, a reduction in immigrants allowed to enter the country due to family ties and an increase in the number allowed to enter the United States for economic purposes.
Bush's campaign responded to Clinton's comments just moments after they aired, noting that she voted for amendments that stopped immigration reform when she was a senator and that she said last year that unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border "should be sent back."
"She is now running further to the left on immigration policy than even President Obama’s White House believes is legally feasible," Bush spokeswoman Emily Benavides said in a statement. "Hillary Clinton will say anything to get elected and her numerous flip-flops on immigration prove it."
Benavides added that as he wrote in his book, Bush "believes in a conservative legislative solution to fix our broken immigration system that includes earned legal status for those currently in the country after they pay fines and taxes, learn English, and commit no substantial crimes while securing our border."
In the CNN interview, Clinton sounded similar to Bush when expressing general views on immigration — that the United States will never be able to deport the 11 million to 12 million people believed to be in the country illegally, and that a revamped immigration system would spur economic growth and increase tax revenues.
"We know we're not going to deport 11 or 12 million people. We shouldn't be breaking up families," she said. "We shouldn’t be stopping people from having the opportunity to be fully integrated legally within our country. It’s good for us, it’s good economically, it’s good for the taxes that will be legally collected. It’s good for the children so that they can go as far as their hard work and talent will take them. So I am 100 percent behind comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship."
Another GOP presidential candidate, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), co-authored the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013, and remains an advocate for allowing eligible immigrants to apply for citizenship.
Clinton made similar charges against GOP candidates to a wider group of reporters just before taping the CNN interview in Iowa City.
"How many people running on the Republican side try to demean immigrants, insult immigrants, cast aspersions on immigrants? They know as well as we know, we are not going to deport 11 or 12 million people living here," she told reporters.
"I hear the Republican candidates — and it's not even the most vitriolic — none of them any longer support a path to citizenship. All of them would basically consign immigrants to second-class status."
Keilar also asked Clinton about the possibility that she might face Bush in the general election.
"Well, we'll see, that’s up to first the Republicans on his side and the Democrats on my side," she said. "What’s great about America is anyone can run for president. That’s literally true. And you have to go out and do what everybody else does … you have to work really hard. So whoever is nominated by their respective parties will be the nominee, and then we'll see who’s on the other side."
Jose A. Del Real reported from Iowa City, Iowa.