National Council of La Raza

Remarks at the National Council of La Raza

(Remarks as prepared for delivery)

It is such a pleasure to be here with you. Thank you Janet Murguia for the introduction and for the invitation to speak today. This is Janet’s tenth year at the helm of the National Council of La Raza. That means ten years of exceptional leadership in the battle for Hispanic civil rights and for a sane, humane vision of immigration.

As many of you know, Janet and her family have lived one of the greatest American success stories you’ll ever hear. Janet’s grandparents moved to the United States to escape the Mexican Revolution. Neither her mom or dad made it past the seventh grade in school, but they believed in hard work, family, community, possibility – all that this nation promised. Growing up, everyone in Janet’s family shared one bedroom. But they also shared something else – an unshakable belief in the American Dream.

Janet and her six siblings grew up to pursue college degrees and law degrees. Janet went on to work at the White House, to serve as a top administrator at the University of Kansas, and of course lead this fine organization. One of Janet’s brothers is a federal judge. One of Janet’s sisters is a federal judge. That’s the first time in our country’s history a brother and sister have served on the federal bench. And that too is the American Dream come to life. And now Janet helps lead the fight to make that dream available to every Hispanic American, to every American family.

Janet had big shoes to fill after the 30 extraordinary years Raul Yzaguirre spent making this organization a national force in pursuit of Hispanic equality and opportunity. When Raul was a child in south Texas, his family faced a nightly Hispanic curfew. Despite growing up in the face of exclusion, his distinguished resume includes his decades of leadership of NCLR, his appointment as American ambassador to the Dominican Republic, and a host of other great achievements in service of the cause.

Along the way, Raul benefited from one of the most far-sighted, transformative investments this country has ever made in its people and the growth of its middle class. Raul went to college on the G.I. Bill. Millions of lives have now been touched by Raul’s life’s work – in part because this country had the good sense to invest in him.

I know the power of that investment personally. My dad, Tom O’Malley, went to college on the G.I. Bill as well. I think it’s fair to say he went to college only because of the G.I. Bill. His dream was set in motion when my great grandparents came to this country from Ireland. My great grandfather, his name was also Martin O’Malley, had no money, and his first language was not English. But the hopes and dreams he had for his children were purely American.

He started from zero. Just like so many New Americans today start from zero.

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The New Americans he worked beside then risked their lives in the mines of southwest Arizona to feed their families, and to give their children a better future. New Americans today have that same experience. The same drive. The same spirit. the same love that builds our country up, one person, one family at a time.

It’s a spirit that has always made us the Land of Opportunity.

For many years I have very intentionally and repeatedly used the term “New Americans”. The genius of our country is not so much about where you came from, it’s where you’re going — and where we’re all going, together.

Today’s New American immigrants are not the first to face the ugliness of fear and exclusion.
During my service as Mayor and as Governor, I have always kept a sign from the 1890s on my desk – it says “Help Wanted: No Irish Need Apply.” Those signs were once common in America.

And for me that sign was a daily reminder that not only were we all once strangers in a strange land…but we are all in this together and “we must help each other if we are to succeed.”

I suppose this truth is why I have always seen, in the eyes of my New American neighbors, the eyes of the great-grandparents I never met. The cause we share is the cause of human dignity, the work we share is the strengthening of our common good as a people. It’s the dream made real by the Murguia family. The dream made real by the Yzaguirre family. The dream made real by MY family…by every family who loves their children and loves our country.

It is the American Dream made real, that lifts us all.

As governor of Maryland, I fought to make that dream real every day.

We did this by including more of our people…more fully…in the economic, social and political life of our state. In Maryland, we didn’t wait for the federal government to act, we pursued our own DREAM Act to ensure that 36,000 Dreamers could have access to affordable higher education.

After I signed the DREAM Act into law, our brothers and sisters in the Republican party petitioned the DREAM Act to a referendum. It was a straight yes or no vote – we were losing our case in the polls, 47 to 39. But we forged a new consensus, and we became the first state to defend the DREAM Act at the ballot box. And we won with 59% percent of the vote.

This was not simply a victory for the DREAMers’ future. It was a victory for Maryland’s future.
In Maryland we expanded access to driver’s licenses, because people need to be able to get to work safely, and obey the rules of the road.

In the very start of my Administration, in 2008, I established the New Americans Commission, to highlight and welcome the skills that were being brought to our state by New American immigrants. That effort was helped by our first Labor Commissioner, a name that might be familiar to you now: Tom Perez—now our Labor Secretary for the United States of America.

During my two terms as Governor, we increased government contracts to Latino businesses by 154 percent. We became the first state in the nation to pass a living wage and we expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit, not once but twice. We raised the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour so that by 2016 hundreds of thousands of Marylanders will have gotten a raise.

We froze tuition four years in a row, and did better than every state but one at keeping down the cost of tuition. This helped Hispanic students earn twice as many associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees during my service as governor. We kept Maryland’s unemployment rate among Hispanic workers down to one of the lowest in the nation.

Anyone can talk about it, but we actually did it.

Las palabras NO son hechos,

Del dicho al hecho hay mucho trecho.

We created real opportunity in Maryland. We did it by investing in our people. We did it by including more of our people more fully in the economic, social and political life of our state. Together, we made the Dream real for more and more families.

Tomorrow, I will lay out a detailed immigration policy for the sake of our nation. Today, I want to share with you the core principles that guide my thinking. First, we are, and always have been, a nation of immigrants— E PLURIBUS UNUM, out of many, we are one. Second, we are a compassionate and generous people. The enduring symbol of our nation is not the barbed wire fence, it is the Statue of Liberty. Third, it is in everyone’s best interest for us to reform a system that is callous, irrational, inhumane, and unjust.

Our fight for immigration reform isn’t only about our values as Americans. It is also about creating an economy that works for all of us.

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It’s about bringing our neighbors out of the shadow economy and into the light of an open and inclusive economy. It is about making wages go up—again—for all Americans. We must begin by providing immediate relief to the millions of New Americans whose hopes have been dashed time and time again because Congress has failed to do its job.

Many leaders within the Republican Party vilify, scapegoat, and seek every opportunity they can find to speak ill of New Americans and have fought tooth and nail against immigration reform. I know you share my disgust with the comments Donald Trump recently made.

The real problem isn’t that the Republicans have such a hate-spewing character running for president – the problem is that it’s so hard to tell him apart from the other candidates. The Los Angeles Times ran a headline the other day: “Republican Field Divided on Donald Trump’s Comments about Mexican immigrants.”

Divided. As in, not sure he’s wrong?!
Two days ago, Mr. Trump attracted a crowd of over 4,000 people to listen to his hate speech rant against New American Immigrants. What does it say about the direction of today’s Republican Party that Donald Trump calls all New Americans from Mexico “rapists” and “drug dealers” and “murderers…” and the best their leadership can summon up is that they’re “divided.” There’s nothing to be divided about here!

If Donald Trump wants to run on a platform of demonizing immigrants, then he should go back to the 1840s and run for the nomination of the Know Nothing Party.

But let me speak to you now about leadership in our own American Hemisphere.

Maybe it’s an Irish sensitivity, but I have a soft spot for island people who are treated poorly.
I would like to speak to you, therefore, about our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico, and our neighbors in this hemisphere on the island of Hispaniola.

Boricuas have been our fellow citizens for almost 100 years. They have contributed to our economy, fought and died to defend our country. But today, they’re suffering through what may be the worst economic and fiscal crisis in the island’s history. We must not let their economy collapse. I led the field in calling for Congress to approve legislation giving Puerto Rico the same ability to negotiate with its creditors that states have under the U.S. Bankruptcy code.

And I led the field in calling on the Department of Health and Human Services to end the inequitable treatment of Puerto Rico under Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.

We must all demand action.

And on the island of Hispaniola, where mass deportations of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent have already begun, I was the first AND ONLY presidential candidate to call on the United States to work with our allies and the United Nations to use the full force of our diplomatic might to stop this atrocious affront to human rights.

We wouldn’t tolerate the expulsion of citizens without due process based on their skin color or ethnic background – and we should not remain silent when such an injustice is being perpetrated in our own hemisphere. Speaking up is the right thing to do, and we all must demand action.

The people of this world, the people of our own American hemisphere, care a lot more about what we do than what we say. That’s why I pledge to you that I will always act according to my principles and guided by our better angels. It is who I am, it is how I’ve led, and how I will continue to lead.

We are the greatest and most powerful republic ever brought forth on the face of this planet. We have literally saved the world before, and we must save our country now. We have come a long way since the depths of the recession. But a great deal of work remains.

We must raise the minimum wage, and pay overtime wages for overtime work. We must respect the rights of all workers to organize and collectively bargain for better wages. We must send our children to college without having their future’s swallowed whole by college loans.

We must create an American jobs agenda to build a new renewable energy future. We must rebuild America’s cities as places of Justice and Opportunity for all.

And we must protect the American Dream from ever being wrecked again by the elite and powerful of Wall Street. And we should stop entering into secret so called free trade agreements that lower wages, lower standards for workers, and export American jobs.

And I want to leave you with this American story.

You all remember the scene last year, when refugee children were streaming north from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – fleeing death at the hands of murderous drug gangs. When children arrive on our doorstep, fleeing starvation and death gangs, we can’t turn our backs, we can’t turn them away. Or worse pen them behind chain link and barbed wire in conditions that look more like those you would see at a local humane society than from a humane country. No — We must act like the generous, compassionate people we have always been. I said we should care for them decently and with respect for the dignity of every child.

Some governors around the country spoke of these children as if they were some kind of invading swarm of jackrabbits. One of my advisers warned me that I was going out on a limb here.

But I spoke truthfully to the compassion and the generosity in the heart of our people — and our people rallied. We rallied faith leaders and accommodated through foster care more children per capita than any other state in the United States. But I knew this was the right thing to do.

Some months later, when I held a holiday open house, there was a long line of people waiting to shake hands and say hello. One gentleman came up to me and said, “Governor O’Malley, I want to introduce you to Manuel. He’s 13. And he was one of the refugee children who just came here from Guatemala.”
The little boy had braved the desert and deprivation and so much else to get away from the drug gangs that infested his homeland.

Manuel didn’t speak English. But he took my hand to shake – and as he did he pulled me into a hug.
I will never forget that moment. Because his dream is our dream. The dream of everything that’s ever been possible only in America.

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