This week, the President went to the National Council of La Raza's annual conference luncheon in Washington, DC. There he discussed how the success of the Latino community is intrinsically tied to the success of our country, telling an audience of more than 2,000 that "the American family is only as strong as the Latino community." He highlighted the many promises we've kept; victories we have won working together in order to make sure America remains a place where opportunity is open to all who work for it. As the President outlined:
"We've cut taxes for middle class workers, small businesses, and low-income families. We’ve won credit card reform and financial reform, protections for consumers and folks who use payday lenders or send remittances home from being exploited or ripped off. We’ve worked to secure health care for 4 million children, including the children of legal immigrants, and we are implementing health reform for all who have been abused by insurance companies, and all who fear going broke if they get sick – big victories for a Latino community that suffers from lack of health insurance more than any other.
The President also addressed the "unfinished business" we still have before us. The President noted:
We know the recent recession has hit Latino families especially hard. We must continue our work on job creation to make sure everyone who wants a job can find one; to make sure paychecks actually cover the bills; to make sure families don’t have to choose between buying groceries and buying medicine; between sending their kids to college and being able to retire. My number one priority, every day, is to figure out how we can get businesses to hire and create jobs with decent wages. And in the short-term, there are some things we should do right away. I want to extend the tax relief we put in place for middle-class families, so that folks have more money in their paychecks. I want to cut red tape that keeps entrepreneurs from turning new ideas into thriving businesses. I want to sign trade deals so our businesses can sell more goods made in America to the rest of the world. And the hundreds of thousands of construction workers who lost their jobs when the housing bubble burst – I want to put them back to work building our roads and bridges and airports. There is work to be done. There are workers ready to do it. Bipartisan proposals for all of this would already be law if Congress would just send them to my desk. And I’d appreciate it if you’d all help me convince them to do it. Let’s get it done.
The President also talked about the frustration the community feels as a result of America's broken immigration system and the tough road ahead for reform, as well as the pain that the laws on the books cause. But the President reiterated that he cannot change the laws on his own, that's not how our democracy works, and that he needs partners in Congress to move a bipartisan bill forward. As the President said, he needs a dance partner and the floor is empty. The President called on the community to continue to build a movement outside of Washington to create the sense of urgency to get this done:
Two months ago, I went down to the border in El Paso to reiterate my vision for an immigration system that holds true to our values, our heritage, and meets our economic and security needs. And this is an economic imperative. In recent years, one in four high-tech startups in America – companies like Google and Intel – were founded by immigrants. One in six new small business owners are immigrants. These are job creators who came here to seek opportunity and now seek to share it. This is our strength. This makes America special – we attract talented, dynamic, optimistic people who continually refresh our economy and our spirit.
But we have a system that allows the best and brightest to come study in America, then tells them to leave and set up the next great company somewhere else. We have a system that tolerates immigrants and businesses that break the rules and punishes those that follow the rules. We have a system that separates families and punishes innocent young people for their parents’ actions by denying them the chance to earn an education, or contribute to our economy, or serve in our military.
These are the laws on the books. And even as I swore an oath to uphold them, I know very well the real pain and heartbreak that deportations cause. I know how concerned and angry many of you are. And I promise you, we are responding to your concerns and working every day to make sure we’re enforcing our laws in the best possible way. I know how badly some people want me to bypass Congress and change the law on my own. And believe me, I’d like to solve these challenges on my own. But it’s not how our democracy works.
Let’s be honest. I need a dance partner, and the floor’s empty. Five years ago, 23 Republican senators supported comprehensive immigration reform because they knew it was good for our economy. Today, they’ve walked away. Republicans helped write the DREAM Act because they knew it was good for our country. Today, they’ve walked away. Last year, we passed the DREAM Act through the House only to see it blocked by Senate Republicans. It was heartbreaking to get so close, then see politics get in the way. And that’s all that’s changed in the past few years. Not the circumstances – but the political winds. That’s left states to come up with patchwork versions of reform that don’t solve the problem. And you and I know that's not the right way to go.
So you have every right to keep the heat on me and the Democrats. And I know you will, believe me. But I ask you to remember who’s been standing with you. Remember who we need to move. Because usually, as soon as I come out in favor of something, half of Congress immediately hates it – even if it was once their idea. So I need you to keep building a movement for change outside of Washington. One that they can’t stop. One greater than this community, that bridges party lines, that unites business and labor, faith and law enforcement, and all who know America can’t continue operating with a broken immigration system. And I promise you I will keep up this fight. Because Washington is way behind the rest of the country on this.
Stephanie Valencia is Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.