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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Defines American (VIDEO)

| Jose Antonio Vargas

Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton how she defines American. 

My question starts at the 3 minute mark of the video below; Clinton's definition begins at the 5:26 mark. 

Speaking at the National Museum as part of her Asian tour, Clinton answered my question at a forum called "A Conversation in Manila," aired by GMA News. She said: "When I think about Americans, I think of America as an idea, as much as a place. People who believe in freedom. People who want to pursue their own God-given talents in a system that rewards hard work and effort. People who abide by our basic values of our Constitution, our founding documents."

Clinton said the "immigration system is broken" and "strongly" believes that "some changes" need to made. Though she underscored the distinction between undocumented and documented immigrants -- "Those who play the rules, who go into our country legally, have certain rights that people who don't lack. That's true of any country; that's not just the United States" -- she noted that it's important that undocumented immigrants be treated with "a humane approach." She went on to say that they "not be mistreated and not be persecuted and discriminated against, to the extent that they are really disadvantaged, especially if they are children."

As a senator for New York, which she called "the beacon for immigrants all over the world," Clinton has long been a proponent of immigration reform. That partly explained her popularity within the Latino electorate throughout her epic fight for the Democratic nomination in the 2008 campaign, as I personally witnessed while on a reporting trip to New Mexico. Clinton understands just how controversial and polarizing the topic is, how it's become a third rail issue in American life. As a political reporter for The Washington Post during the 2008 campaign, I recall how her conflicted answer to a question about granting driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants was interpreted by the press corps and the political class. The GOP dubbed it "Hillary's Debate Dodgeball"; some Democrats and many in the media said it was a Clintonian doublespeak -- Hillary trying to have it both ways. She supports it granting licenses to undocumented immigrants, as proposed by then Gov. Eliot Spitzer, but she does not support it. Lost in the whirl of the commotion was the critical question she posed herself during the debate: "What are we going to do with all these illegal immigrants who are [driving]?"

As I traveled around the country to cover the campaign -- in fact, I spent a few days on the Clinton campaign bus -- I needed a driver's license. I needed the license to work, so I could contribute to society, so I could pay taxes. I felt conflicted about getting the license, as politicians and officials like Clinton feel conflicted about giving someone like me a license. But what was I suppose to do? 

Many are understandably conflicted about immigration, what actual reform looks like. But we need to spend as much time discussing an actual solution as we do arguing about the problem.

Like Clinton, who said in Manila yesterday that she's "confident" America will eventually work through our immigration problem, I, too, am optimistic. But that's because pessimism, for me, is not an option. There's much work to do -- more common-sense, pragmatic, reasoned solutions to discuss. So let's talk. And while we're at it, please share with us your story on Define American's new Stories feature, which enables anyone to share their stories via video, text, photo and audio: http://www.defineamerican.com/stories.

How do you define American?

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