Former Secretary of State and Harlem native Colin Powell has clarified his recent remarks on immigration policy, saying he does not hire illegal immigrants to do repairs on his home. The onetime secretary of state for George W. Bush waded into one of the most contentious culture-war issues of 2010 during an appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” — the latest in a series of dissensions from conservative orthodoxy that have prompted some of his former GOP colleagues to question his party allegiance.
“I don’t hire illegal immigrants,” Powell said in a statement Monday. “On ‘Meet the Press’ yesterday, I referred to illegal immigrants working around my house. I was referring to the many service contractors who work in my neighborhood, using mostly immigrant workers, who do good work. Some may well be ‘illegal.’ There are 11 million illegal immigrants in this country and most are working somewhere in our economy.”
The AP reported yesterday that Powell said “illegal immigrants do essential work in the U.S. and that he has firsthand knowledge of that—because they fix his house.” The story became Yahoo News’ most shared item last night.
Powell — who staked himself to the left of Republicans when he endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008 — urged Republicans to support the DREAM Act, which would allow illegal immigrants under 30 to gain legal status if they entered the country as minors and if they agreed to join the Army or go to college. (Participants would not qualify for cheaper in-state tuition.)
“We can’t be anti-immigration,” said Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants. “Immigrants are fueling this country. Without immigrants, America would be like Europe or Japan with an aging population and no young people coming in to take care of it. We have to educate our immigrants. The DREAM Act is one way to do that.”
Powell also said Republicans should back immigration reform that would create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, as Bush urged during his presidency. Powell reminded Americans that immigrants are hard workers:
“They’re all over my house, doing things whenever I call for repairs, and I’m sure you’ve seen them at your house,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to bring these people out of the darkness and give them some kind of status. “
Though in 2006 comprehensive immigration reform passed the Senate with Republican support, most Republicans now emphasize increased border security.
Powell, a former general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on the show that he considers himself “a moderate Republican.” But though he was once courted as a GOP presidential candidate, he now looks increasingly out of place in his party of choice. He said he hopes moderate Republicanism will survive.
“I have very, very moderate social views, and I’m pretty strong on, on defense matters. And I think there is a party in there that wants to come out,” he said.
Powell declined to say whether he would endorse Obama in 2012. In 2008, he bemoaned Rush Limbaugh’s effect on the GOP and said Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin had pushed the party rightward. Limbaugh and former Vice President Dick Cheney fired back, saying Powell was no longer a Republican.