Condoleezza Rice cites regret over immigration

L.A. Cicero rice

Condoleezza’s Rice’s speech at the March 13 economic summit marked her first major appearance since returning to the university earlier this month.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she regrets the Bush administration's failure to push major immigration changes through Congress, and she warned that keeping newcomers out of America would hurt the country.

"One of my biggest regrets is that we were not able to get comprehensive immigration reform," Rice, a political science professor and the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution, said Friday during a kickoff to an economic summit presented by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

"America has always been able to attract the most ambitious people who are determined to have a better life," she said. "If we ever lose that and start to believe that somehow that it is instead a threat to us to have those people come here, we are going to lose one of the strongest elements of not just our national wealth, but of our national soul."

Rice said it was wrong to have "people living in the shadows" and slammed immigration opponents for losing sight of America's melting-pot principles.

"Sometimes I wanted to say, 'Check your last name,'" Rice said. "It doesn't sound like it came over on the Mayflower."

Rice's presentation marked her first major appearance at Stanford since returning to the university earlier this month after eight years in the Bush administration. While her remarks at the Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center were met with a standing ovation, a handful of protesters objecting to her involvement in the Iraq war stood outside.

Her comments on immigration came as she was stressing the need to encourage open markets, free trade and innovation in the face of the global economic downturn. She said the world needs to "affirm the model of economic development that has dominated since the collapse of the Soviet Union."

That includes a resistance to protectionism and the need to continue giving economic aid to developing nations in regions like Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe.

"In tight budget times, there will be an inclination to pull back and give less," Rice said. "That would deepen the problems of these countries trying to do the right thing."

She said the most resilient countries will be those that have committed to a strong democracy, and cautioned that China may find itself in an increasingly unstable situation because it put economic growth ahead of any political reform.

"I know there is a view of China that China did it right—that they did the economics first and that democracy will come later," she said. "I'm not certain that a system planned from the top down has the kind of resiliency that it may need."

And countries like Russia and Venezuela that insist on staking so much of their economic futures on oil prices threaten to destabilize world markets and international relations.

"Oil warped international politics in a way that nothing else did," she said.

Despite accusations that American economic policies stoked the worldwide financial crisis, Rice said those models will endure and criticism will pass. And a global recovery will largely depend on how the United States reacts, she said.

"If Americans aren't optimistic and confident, we won't lead," she said. "We'll turn in. We'll protect. And then everyone will, and that will be bad for the world."