Illegal Aliens Show 'Gumption' and 'Courage,' Says Clinton Cabinet Official

By Penny Starr | September 20, 2011 | 5:18pm EDT

Former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros spoke on Sept. 20, 2011 at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. ( Starr)

( – The former secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) said Tuesday that people who enter the United States illegally show "gumption" and "courage" and are “the best other societies can send.”

Henry Cisneros, who led the federal agency during the Clinton administration, was a panelist at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., for a discussion about how both legal and illegal immigration is changing the ethnicity of the nation’s cities.

“We get, in some sense, the best that other societies can send – people who walk across the desert and put themselves at risk to work,” said Cisneros. “They understand the sort of fundamental principle, which is work and sacrifice.

“And these are the people who have to make a decision none of the rest of us ever have to make; to uproot themselves and show that level of gumption, if you will, of courage. So I think we get a lot in the bargain,” he added.

Cisneros made the remarks in response to a question from someone in the audience, who asked if anyone on the panel thought claims that illegal immigration poses a problem for the country’s future were exaggerated.

Cisneros said he believed the problem is exaggerated and that while he understands the “principle of people coming here legally and abiding by the law” he also sees why people come to the U.S. for work and how some industries in the U.S. attract those workers.

“They do important work in our society,” Cisneros said. “There’s entire industries that couldn’t function without them.”

Cisneros, who lives in San Antonio, Texas, where he served four terms as the city’s mayor, said he resides in one of the poorest areas of the city in his grandparents’ refurbished house.

“And when I go to church on Sunday one block from my house, I can’t tell who is legal and who is undocumented,” Cisneros said. “But I can tell you a lot of the people probably are not legal, and they are upstanding people who raise their children, and they are doing their very best to make a place, and they have fond dreams and ambitions and hopes, and I think they have a lot to contribute to this society.”

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