In a speech to a hostile audience at the headquarters of the anti-illegal immigration group the Minteueman Project, former U.S. President Bill Clinton made an impassioned plea for congress and the White House to reform that nation's immigration system, which he described as "broken", "chaotic" and "unnecessarily restrictive". The U.S. has debated for nearly a decade measures to combat illegal immigration - mostly originating from Latin American countries - while also encouraging highly skilled workers to settle in what remains the world's number one destination for immigrants.
Efforts to craft a comprehensive solution to the issue, however, have been stymied by conservative Republicans in the US Congress who under President Bush blocked compromise bills seen as not sufficiently restrictive. Since efforts have stalled at the national level, several US states including Arizona and Alabama have enacted their own tough laws which opponents have criticized as racially insensitive and a burden on business.
"Do you realize that when you exclude immigrants from Latin America you're also excluding Latin women?"
Many Americans also have commented that much of the Republican opposition to immigration is realated to xenophobic fears about the changing cultural mix of the nation. The number of Hispanics in the United States increased by 40% from 2000 to 2010, and nearly one and six Americans now has ethnic heritage from Latin America. Clinton took on this issue directly, addressing the conservatives with a powerful argument for ethnic and racial diversity:
"Do you realize who we're keeping out? Do you realize that when you exclude immigrants from Latin America you're also excluding Latin women? Brazillian women. Columbian women, Salvadorian women, Cuban women, Ecuadorian women. All different shapes and sizes and accents. "
He continued with a pitch for the role immigrants play in building the U.S. economy, "Have you ever got a massage from a Brazilian woman? Have you? I know three places in Brooklyn that give the best Brazilian massages money can buy. We shouldn't be forcing Americans to travel to Sao Paulo for a decent massage. Think about it. Think about all the money we spend on airfare, hotels, and expenses. If more American cities had the opportunity to welcome authentic Brazilian masseuses, we could keep our massage dollars here in the U.S."
Clinton then spent nearly twenty minutes listing goods and services he buys abroad which he wished immigrants could produce for him in the U.S. Eventually he realized that his speech might be aimed at too high an income bracket and finished with an attempt to relate his concerns to middle America:
"Have you seen that show on TV? Modern Family I think its called. With the older successful man and the gorgeous young wife from Columbia. Have you seen this show?....This is what's at stake here folks. We need to ask ourselves if America is still a nation where dreams can come true."
Reaction to the speech from inside the room was predictably lukewarm at best. One attendee quipped "It was a terrible speech. He should stick to what he's good at - like murdering Vince Foster."