Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sees ‘new energy’ behind push for comprehensive immigration reform

Caroline May | Reporter

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday said there is more energy behind the push for immigration reform now than there was during the 2007 reform attempt under the Bush administration.

During a conference call detailing the formation of the Bipartisan Policy Center Immigration Task Force — set to be co-chaired by Rice, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry G. Cisneros, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell — Rice suggested the 2007 reform effort failed in part because there was no gas left in the White House’s tank.

“First of all, it was closing in on the end of the administration,” she said. “Frankly, it had been a long seven years at that point. … I think the environment is better now. I think it was getting very late in the administration, and I think now we have some new energy behind the issue.”

Rice stressed the need to educate the American people on the issue, emphasizing that 24-hour news cycles often don’t tell the full story.

“I believe this issue goes to the heart of who we are as Americans,” she said. (RELATED: Department of Homeland Security gives immigration welcome materials a makeover)

As a member of the Stanford faculty, Rice said she has seen firsthand how foreign students can succeed in the classroom, only to end up taking their knowledge back to their home countries.

“I know that the issues of immigration are hard, and that people of good faith and integrity disagree about the specifics of immigration, but I hope that as a country we can come to a place where we acknowledge how important immigration and immigrants have been to who we are as Americans, to why we have led in economic revolution after economic revolution,” she added.

Rice noted that the comprehensive immigration reform could help secure the border.

“I think there is a tendency to think that the border security problem has to be completely and totally solved first,” she said. “You’re not going to get there. But if you have sound immigration policies, it is actually easier to have border enforcement, I am a fan of doing both together, but I wouldn’t want it to be thought that comprehensive immigration reform is actually going to make the border security problem harder. I think it’s the other way around.”

Barbour, who along with the other co-chairs of the task force was on call with reporters, said the U.S. needs high-skilled foreigners who graduate from American universities to stay. He stressed the importance of retaining low-skilled workers for agriculture jobs, as well.

“I believe we should be for what is good economic policy in terms of immigration, and it is immigration reform that is needed — in terms of border security, in terms of guest worker programs, in terms of green cards, in terms of making sure people who come here legally on visas don’t overstay their welcome — and we will look at that whole gamut of issues to try to look at this comprehensively.”

Cisneros, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary, spoke to the human aspect of illegal immigration.

“We are going to have to find solutions, like Gov. Barbour said, to deal with the employment issues and the legalization, and hopefully in there somewhere is a pathway to eventual citizenship so we don’t have people living in the shadows illegally, and then later don’t have a permanent underclass,” he said.

However, Rendell noted that while many agree on the need for immigration reform, “the devil is going to be in the details.”

“It is going to be difficult to reach agreement on many issues that are very thorny. I think the Policy Center is going to play an important role in meeting with all the stakeholders,” he said.

The Bipartisan Policy Center Immigration Task Force will be engaging with policy makers, offering their ideas and assistance to help bring about immigration reform. The effort is set to be led by Rebecca Tallent, the former chief of staff to Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.

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