Remarks by the President at 39th Annual Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Gala
Walter E. Washington Convention Center
7:55 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Buenas noches! (Applause.) It is always great to be here, with one of the most caucus -- (applause) -- maybe a little wild -- (applause) -- caucuses in Congress, especially to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month. (Applause.) I want to thank Michelle for her introduction, for her leadership. And give it up for your outstanding Chair, Congresswoman Linda Sanchez. (Applause.) CHCI’s new President and CEO, Domenica Lynch. (Applause.) And all the tremendous public servants that we have here tonight, especially everybody in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. "Amen" -- is that what I heard? (Laughter.) Amen. (Laughter.)
Now, I’ve got to admit that I am having trouble accepting that this is my final trip here as President.
AUDIENCE: Aww --
THE PRESIDENT: But on the bright side, Michelle is not having trouble accepting it. (Laughter.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you, Obama!
THE PRESIDENT: I love you, too! (Applause.) But it is hard to believe that it was eight years ago I came here as a candidate for this office. And I had no gray hair. (Laughter.) I said that we could create opportunity not just for those at the top, but for everybody who was willing to work hard, so that they could afford health care, and college, and retirement, and give their kids a better life. What Sarah Palin called “that hopey-changey stuff.” (Laughter.)
Well, tonight, I’m back here as President to say thank you. (Applause.) Thank you for your support, thank you for your friendship, thank you for your tireless efforts to deliver on that promise. (Applause.) Because for all the places that we’ve fallen short, and for all the work that remains to be done, I am back here tonight more optimistic about the future of America than I have ever been.
And why not? Together, we fought our way back from the worst recession in 80 years. We turned around an economic freefall, we helped lift our auto industry to set new records, our businesses create more than 15 million new jobs. Together, we declared health care is not a privilege for a few, but a right for everybody. (Applause.) And we have secured health insurance for another 20 million Americans, including 4 million Hispanic Americans. (Applause.)
Our high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. More Hispanic students are graduating high school and college than ever before. (Applause.) We strengthened our relationship with Mexico and Central America, and opened up a new chapter with the people of Cuba. (Applause.) We brought nearly 200 nations together around a climate agreement that could save our planet. (Applause.) We affirmed that love has no limits, and marriage equality is now the law of the land. (Applause.)
Just this week, we discovered how much our efforts are starting to pay off in ways that really matter to American families.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thanks, Obama!
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks, Obama! (Laughter and applause.) We learned that last year, across every race, across every age group in America, incomes rose and poverty fell. (Applause.) The typical household income grew by about $2,800 -- which is the single-biggest one-year increase on record. We lifted 3.5 million people out of poverty, the largest one-year drop since 1968. (Applause.) The number of Americans without health insurance continues to fall. And in each of these areas, Latino Americans made some of the largest gains -- the fastest income growth. The biggest drop in the poverty rate. The greatest gains in insurance coverage. That's why, all in all, Hispanic families are feeling more optimistic about their prospects today than they did eight years ago. (Applause.)
By so many measures, our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when we started this journey together. And we couldn't have done it without the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who has been with me every step of the way.
Now, none of this was easy. There were some tough years in there. You had fiscal showdowns and government shutdowns, and pandemics and oil spills, and pirates. Ya'll remember the pirates? (Laughter and applause.) I mean, the only thing we haven't had to deal with is, like, the asteroid or aliens. (Laughter.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Don't jinx us!
THE PRESIDENT: That's true, good point. (Laughter.) (President knocks on wood podium.) Shouldn't have mentioned the aliens. (Laughter and applause.)
But we overcame all that. We overcame all that, and most of all, we proved that change doesn’t happen overnight, it doesn't happen in one term, it doesn't happen even over the course of one presidency, but change is possible. Progress is possible.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Si, se puede!
THE PRESIDENT: Si, se puede. (Applause.) We're here again tonight because we know that we’ve got more work to do, but we know that if we put in the effort, change can happen.
You know firsthand the challenges we still face -- challenges that often affect the Latino community harshly. When governors refuse to expand Medicaid, that hits Latinos harder than most. When folks block an increase in the minimum wage or refuse to expand paid family leave, that hurts the pocketbooks of millions of Hispanic families. So we’ve got to make sure this recovery reaches all Americans. We’ve got to help more students not just get to college, but finish college. (Applause.) We’ve got to reform our criminal justice system, and we've got to protect our children from the madness of gun violence. (Applause.) And yes, we’ve got to finally make meaningful, effective immigration reform a reality in this country. (Applause.)
Now, I’m proud of the executive actions I’ve taken to modernize our system. I’m proud of the work we’ve done to help show more than 740,000 DREAMers that the country they grew up in -- the country they love -- believes that they are worthy of this country’s blessings, just like your kids, just like my kids. (Applause.) But if we’re truly going to fix this broken system, then we're going to have to push back against bluster and falsehoods and promises of higher walls.
We need a comprehensive solution that works for our families and our businesses; that grows our economy and enhances our culture. We need an approach that upholds our tradition as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. And it is possible to do that.
It’s possible to insist on a lawful and orderly system while still seeing students and their hardworking parents not as criminals, not as rapists, but as families who came here for the same reasons that all immigrants came here -- to work and to learn and to build a better life. (Applause.)
And look, throughout this political season, the talk around these issues has cut deeper than in years past. It’s a little more personal. It's a little meaner, a little uglier. And folks are betting that if they can drive us far enough apart, and if they can put down enough of us because of where we come from or what we look like or what religion we practice, then that may pay off at the polls.
But I'm telling you that's a bet they’re going to lose. (Applause.) We’ve seen this kind of ugliness and anger and vitriol before. That kind of politics sometimes may carry the day in the short term -- I know that there are a lot of folks who had this notion of what the "real America" looks like, and somehow it only includes a few of us. But who is going to decide who the real America is? (Applause.) Who is to determine that in this nation of immigrants, in a nation where, unless you are a Native American, you came here from somebody -- someplace else -- (applause) -- that you have a greater claim than anybody here?
So we can't let that brand of politics win. And if we ban together and if we organize our communities, if we deliver enough votes, then the better angels of our nature will carry the day, and progress will happen. But it's going to take all of us.
This is not something that a President can do alone. It's not something the next President will be able to do alone either, no matter how tough she is. (Applause.)
So we've got to work to get a Congress that's willing to act on immigration reform. That means we need more than just the people in this room tonight -- we're going to need some fresh faces under the Capitol Dome. It's going to take work on all of our parts. And I have faith, because over these last eight years, every time I've fallen short, every time I've faced doubts or been taught a tough lesson or experienced a loss, what got me through has been you. You've picked me up. CHC has picked me up. (Applause.)
It's knowing that I’ve got allies like Linda and Rubén and Charlie and Nydia fighting tooth and nail on the Hill and back in your home states, even on tough votes. It’s knowing that you’re fostering the next generation of leaders, including more than 40 of your former fellows that have helped lead the way in my administration. (Applause.) It's knowing you're giving folks like Diego Quiñones a chance. Where’s Diego? (Applause.) Is Diego here? There he is, back there.
So when Diego was seven years old, Diego moved to Arkansas from Mexico with his parents. And his dad took a job repairing and building wooden pallets, which is a lot of hard work -- calloused hands. A few years later, his dad opened up his own business. So Diego was waking up at 5 a.m., and loading and unloading pallets by hand, working every weekend through high school. And his family didn’t have a lot of money, but they had belief, faith in America. Because as he says -- and I'm quoting here -- “If you come here and work hard, eventually you will succeed.”
And today, thanks to DACA, Diego’s the first in his family to graduate from college. (Applause.) And now he’s a fellow here at CHCI. (Applause.) And one day he hopes to go into government himself, and make things better not just for Latino kids like him, but “for every single person in the United States.” (Applause.)
It's young people like that that keep me going -- folks who prove that immigrants aren't somehow changing the American character; immigrants are the American character. (Applause.) That's who we are. It's the DREAMers full of optimism. The moms and dads working long hours to give their kids a better shot. The entrepreneurs who came here to start new businesses and put Americans to work. The teachers and the nurses and the lawyers who wake up at the crack of dawn to get ahead. And the folks who clean up after us. And the folks who care for our grandparents. (Applause.) The folks who are so proud of this country that they carry a pocket Constitution in their breast pocket. (Applause.)
That’s the America I know. (Applause.) That’s the America I believe in more strongly than ever. So thank you for picking me up every step of the way. Thank you for making this country great. We’ve got more work to do. But we will keep on making progress and create a brighter future for everybody in this country we love. Si, se puede. Thank you. (Applause.)
Thank you, CHCI. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)
8:07 P.M. EDT