In the early 1900s, more than 300,000 people passed through California’s Angel Island on their way to a new life in America, many drawn by the belief that here, anything was possible.
Today, just a few miles away at the Betty Ong Recreation Center in San Francisco’s Chinatown, President Obama said he is committed to fixing our broken immigration system to make sure we continue welcoming striving, hardworking immigrants who see America the same way many of our ancestors did when they came here generations ago -- as a country where no matter who you are or what you look like or where you come from, you can make it if you try.
“Too often when we talk about immigration, the debate focuses on our southern border,” President Obama said. But immigrants from all over the world have put down roots in every corner of the country. In San Francisco, where the economy is one of the fastest growing in the country, 35 percent of business owners are immigrants.
“That’s the impact that our talented, hardworking immigrants can have," he said. “That’s the difference they can make. And that’s why it’s long past time to reform an immigration system that doesn’t serve America as well as it should – because we should be doing more to unleash that potential.”
President Obama shared the story of Andrew Ly and his brothers, who emigrated from Vietnam by way of Malaysia. Once they arrived in San Francisco, they learned English and worked as handymen and seamstresses.
Eventually, Andrew and his brothers earned enough money to buy a small bakery. And they started making donuts, and they started selling them to Chinese restaurants. And with a lot of hard work and a little luck, the Sugar Bowl Bakery today is a $60 million business. So these humble and striving immigrants from Vietnam now employ more than 300 Americans. They’re supplying pastries to Costco and Safeway, and almost every hotel and hospital in San Francisco.
“That’s what America is all about,” President Obama said.
This is the place where you can reach for something better if you work hard. This is the country our parents and our grandparents and waves of immigrants before them built for us. And it falls on each new generation to keep it that way. The Statue of Liberty doesn’t have its back to the world. The Statue of Liberty faces the world and raises its light to the world.
When Chinese immigrants came to this city in search of “Gold Mountain,” they weren’t looking just for physical riches. They were looking for freedom and opportunity. They knew that what makes us American is not a question of what we look like or what our names are -- because we look like the world. You got a President named Obama. What makes us American is our shared belief in certain enduring principles, our allegiance to a set of ideals, to a creed, to the enduring promise of this country.