Former President Clinton told one of the nation’s largest Latino civil rights groups Saturday that the conservative wing of the Republican Party is using the immigration issue to divide Congress and the nation.
“It is a way of creating a divided community and distracting people from the real challenges facing the country, whether it is in Iraq and Afghanistan, or homeland security, or how to build a clean energy future, or how to solve the healthcare crisis, or how to create new jobs for America,” he said.
Clinton said hard-liners are “basically saying these undocumented broke the law, send them home—never mind that they are 5% of the workforce and a far bigger percentage in certain critical areas.”
“It’s crazy to think about sending 11 million people home” to their native countries, said the former president, who called the recent demonstrations for immigrant rights “incredibly moving.”
He said he favors the Senate’s approach to changing immigration laws, although there are some elements of the bill he dislikes. The Senate legislation would enhance border security, create a guest worker program and put most of the nation’s illegal immigrants in line for citizenship.
“At least it says we ought to provide a path to citizenship for these hard-working, law-abiding people,” Clinton said. “We ought to do it in a way that does not put them ahead of those who patiently waited in the legal process.”
Bill Clinton thanked President Bush for siding with moderates in his own party regarding immigration. He suggested that Bush had a different understanding of the immigration issue because of his ties to Texas, where Latinos have been part of the history and culture for many generations. “It’s hard to demonize people if you know ‘em.”
Clinton also praised Villaraigosa’s view of “America as a family, an inclusive family, a family that will let everyone in.”
Clinton’s speech underscored some of his core political values. “America is and always will be a nation of immigrants,” he said. “We have to create one America based on our diversity, not trying to deny it.”