Remarks by Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor Immigration Town Hall/Panel

By:  Hilda Solis
Date: May 27, 2011
Location: Los Angeles, CA

Good morning everyone and thank you for being here today!

Buenos dias gente! Como estamos?

Muchisimas gracias por estar aquĂ­ con nosotros!

It's great to be back in my home state! Great to be back in Los Angeles! And it's great to be here at ELAC with all of you!

It makes sense that we have this conversation here.

At 2.6 million, the number of undocumented people in California remains largest in the country -- that's one-quarter of our nation's total.

But the immigration issue in communities like this one is about a lot more than numbers.

I'm from around here. So I know that for the families in these neighborhoods, this issue represents a daily struggle guided by great uncertainty, anxiety, and fear.

Millions of the faces behind the numbers we often hear about -- but seldom see -- live right here.

So let me begin by saying that I know many of you may be frustrated or discouraged. You want clear answers and information. I get that.

At times, I feel disheartened, too.

When I hear stories about families that have been separated; or a fearful worker who's been treated terribly; or when I meet brilliant students, with beautiful dreams who can't make them come true... it breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart because I think about my family, about the people who raised me and how much they've meant to my life.

My parents came to this country with only the best of intentions -- to work hard, make a decent living, and give my siblings and me a better life than they had.

And I know that many of you -- and many of our panelists today -- have their own immigration stories.

Your stories are important. They bring us closer as a people, and they need to be told.

But they also provide a unique framework for us to better make the case for the immigration system we wish to see in the 21st century.

And that's what this conversation is about today.

Our frustration stems from the fact that we are still fighting for reform.

We've gotten so close in the recent past, but now almost every Republican in Washington has withdrawn their support.

This issue should not divide along party lines. And President Obama is right to keep pushing on this.

We're living in a time of economic uncertainty. Too many Americans are out of work -- that's especially true for Latinos.

Yet some American who once supported reform have changed their position, because they think bringing immigrants out of the shadows will make it harder for them to find work.

Our challenge is to make them understand the opposite is true.

We've learned a lot in our struggle.

We've learned that the stories we tell are even more powerful when we also talk about the economic benefits that immigrants bring to EVERYONE in this country.

But we can't just preach to the choir.

We have to be strategic. We have to prove to all Americans that comprehensive reform is in our national interest.

We have to change the conversation. We have to take hold of the way people talk about this issue and about our people.

In the media, and in states across the country, immigrants are consistently painted as incompetent, as thugs, and as criminals.

But it's just not true -- you know that. This kind of demonization is not right, it's devastating, and it needs to stop!

For generations, immigrants have contributed vastly to the wealth and prosperity of this nation.

Today, immigrants are scientists and engineers. . .

They create jobs as small business owners and entrepreneursÂ…

They file three times as many patents, which are the foundation for 21st century innovation.

Immigrants build roads and harvest crops -- work that is critical to our economic prosperity.

Immigrant families boost local economies, increase tax revenue, and pay into social security.

And yes, immigrants are driven, smart and some the best students we have this country!

So we need to tell this story, too.

Because these stories -- the hopes and dreams of so-called "illegal aliens" are not "alien" at all.

They're the same stories of countless hopeful Americans who have come here from everywhere in the world to make a better life for themselves and for their children.

And look, the President knows this.

I can tell you that the President's cares deeply about this issue.

He comes from a family whose father was an immigrant.

I've seen how he interacts with our community at every level, and it's sincere and heartfelt.

But I know some of you feel frustrated. You see that the other party will do nothing about this issue, so you want this administration to do more.

But I want to tell you that under the President's leadership, we've made some strong progress in protecting immigrant workers at the Department of Labor.

We've signed agreements with the Department of Homeland Security and the Mexican and Salvadorian Consulates to provide added safeguards to vulnerable workers.

We've also made it easier for all workers to know their rights, speak up on the job and file complaints.

Through the H2A program, we've provided increased protections for foreign workers who come here to harvest seasonally.

And we've begun the process of certifying U Visas for victims of crimes like trafficking and involuntary servitude.

This will help us go after their abusers and let these immigrants stay here and defend their rights.

So, I feel very privileged to work for a President that has supported all of these things and who is committed to a more sane, humane 21st century immigration system.

The President believes we can't fix the system and change hearts and minds until we lower the temperature on the rhetoric.

He is leading in civil national conversation.

From this debate, it will become clear to Latinos -- and all immigrants -- exactly who is on their side.

The conversation we will have today is an important step in that process.

Our talk today is about restoring dignity and respect to people who are working hard and playing by the rules.

It's about reuniting families and building communities.

It's about knocking down the media stereotypes and making sure America knows who immigrants really are.

And it's about understanding that to create jobs and speed up our economic recovery, we must harness all of our human capital.

Our most precious resource is ourselves.

So I look forward to hearing your ideas. I thank you for being part of a constructive dialogue.

And I share your conviction that, working together, we can live up to our ideals and make America is a place where anyone can make it if they try.