Former President Bill Clinton said President Obama is on “pretty firm legal footing” for his executive action that is expected to offer deportation relief for 5 million illegal immigrants.
“As far as I can tell, every governor, every president in the modern era has issued some executive orders affecting immigration. So I think it—I imagine he’s on pretty firm legal footing,” said Clinton at the New Republic’s Centennial Gala on Wednesday night.
“But here’s what I want to say about that. The United States is the best-positioned big country in the world for the next 20 years, positioned. We are younger than every wealthy country but my tiny homeland, Ireland. We are more diverse. We have this thicket of high-tech innovation and great universities and we are beginning to improve our capacity to train people for jobs that are actually there,” he added.
In a primetime address on Thursday evening, Obama announced that millions of illegal immigrants can apply for a program that offers them work permits and protects them from deportation. Obama explained his decision to act without Congress to key Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday evening.
Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have argued that Obama’s executive action would “seriously undermine the rule of law.”
In his keynote address, Clinton said the “youth of a workforce” matters in America.
“One of the problems is, according to Fareed Zakaria’s show last Sunday, Americans think 31 percent of our population are immigrants. And in fact, it’s about 12 percent or 13 percent. But I really was almost physically ill at the—what some people say when all those Central American immigrants showed up at the border,” he said.
“I don’t even know if everybody here knows this, but there had been zero net in-migration from Mexico in the last four years. Zero net in-migration from Mexico, partly because the previous president, Mr. Calderon, established 140 tuition-free universities,” he added.
Clinton said Mexico is graduating almost the same number of engineers as America, despite its smaller population.
“Last year, Mexico, barely a third our population, graduated 113,000 engineers, the United States 120,000,” he said. “They’re in the innovation business. All you got to do is go to Mexico City now and look around.”
Clinton applauded former President George W. Bush for signing a “good and decent” bipartisan bill, which said if somebody showed up on the border and felt they were at risk, they had a right to a hearing.
“It was a good and decent thing. It’s fine if the administration is trying to protect people where they live so they can process there and they’re not all lined up on the border, but to think that this means, oh, the border’s out of control, the world’s coming to an end, we don’t need immigration reform, it’s wrong. Those people will make America’s future,” he said.
Clinton told the audience that Americans have come so far since the era of Joe McCarthy but have “one remaining bigotry.”
“We’re less racist. We’re less sexist. We’re less homophobic than we used to be. We only have one remaining bigotry. We don’t want to be around anybody who disagrees with us,” he said.
As an example, Clinton cited a poll he saw that showed 47 percent of self-identified conservatives only watch Fox News on television.
“That’s good for Fox News. I mean, it’s a good business model. My mother-in-law, who died a couple years ago at 91, and whom I love dearly and who lived with Hillary in our Washington home while she was secretary of State and senator, was the most liberal member of our family,” he said. “She watched Fox News every day. I asked her if she was trying to give herself a heart attack. She said, ‘No, I’m just trying to keep my blood pumping.’”
Clinton said his mother-in-law told him, “I need to know what they’re saying so I have an answer and I need to know what they’re saying in case they’re right.”