Clinton: U.S. needs immigrants to spur economy, pay off debt

Clinton said Wednesday that Congress should take up immigration reform legislation to preserve the country’s advantage over trading partners.

The advantage the U.S. has to growing powers such as China and India “is that we've got somebody from everywhere here, and they all do well,” Clinton said Wednesday.

Clinton said he disagreed with the new law in Arizona giving the police broad powers to ask individuals for immigration documents, but he said he understood why it passed.

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White males in the United States without college degrees “just got shivered” in the last decade, losing more of their income than compared to women, Clinton said.

Increasing the number of immigrants in the country would bolster the economy and help with the country's daunting fiscal situation, Clinton said.

“Changes we have to make in Social Security will be slightly less draconian if you get people in the system,” he said. “I don't think there's any alternative but for us to increase immigration.”

Clinton’s remarks came at a conference in Washington on the country's rising debt sponsored by the fiscal watchdog Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

They come at the same time Senate Democratic leaders are considering debating an immigration reform bill this year ahead of climate change legislation.

Clinton said that the debt issue is a “really serious” problem now that 48 percent of the federal debt is held by entities abroad.

“I think this is a national sovereignty issue and it's about control over our economic destiny,” he said.

He praised President Barack Obama for creating a bipartisan fiscal commission and putting “everything on the table,” including tax increases, spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs.

Lawmakers must look for savings in all programs, including defense, but they must also continue investments in education and energy and reforms to the healthcare system, Clinton said.

“We need to do this, but we will not succeed unless we do something to generate more jobs,” he said.