Senator Marco Rubio
Speech at National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials
June 22, 2012
Thank you. Thank you Senator Martinez.
Muchas gracias por esta oportunidad de estar con ustedes en el dia de hoy. Se lo agradezco. Muchas gracias al Senador por vender el libro. Thank you Senator Martinez for showing my book, which is available at Amazon for 16.99. Thank you, I appreciate that very much.
Quiero dar unas palabras el español brevemente, antes de empezar el discurso para dar le las gracias primero para venir a la Florida y tener su conferencia aquí de NALEO. Hace 5 anos que NALEO vino acá, al centro de la Florida, yo creo que en este mismo sitio. Y nos unimos para hablar los temas de aquel entonces.
En poco momentos voy a hablar también sobre donde estamos hoy y me sorprende, pero desafortunadamente nos encontramos que la mayoría de los temas que eran tema en aquel entonces siguen siendo tema en el día de hoy. Que ninguno de los temas que estaban -- que existían en esa conferencia se han resuelto al nivel federal. Y vamos a discutir eso en unos momentos pero quería reconocer los a todos ustedes y dar le las gracias por escoger la Florida para esta conferencia.
I apologize to those who don't speak Spanish. I was just telling them how I saved a bunch of money on my car insurance.
So, I wanted to talk to you today. And I thought, you know, one of the things that frustrates me sometimes is that when people speak to Hispanics and Latinos, they only want to talk about immigration. And the point that I make is that immigration is a very important issue in the Hispanic community, but the vast majority of us do not wake up in the morning and think about immigration all day. We wake up in the morning and have the same worries, the same hopes and the same fears as everybody else in this country. We worry about making payroll on Friday. We worry about balancing our family's budget at the end of the month. We worry about the schools that our kids go to. We worry about whether tomorrow will be better for them than it has been for us.
And that's what I wanted to concentrate on here today when I came to speak to you, but I won't necessarily limit myself to that because I think that both my head and my heart tell me that today, perhaps we are as close as we've ever been to a critical turning point in the debate about immigration. And so, I've abandoned my hopes of only talking about the economy and jobs, as important as that may be, for one moment and for one day, in hopes of speaking frankly to you about the issue of immigration and what I've learned in my year and a half in the Senate and what I hope can happen moving forward.
The first thing I learned when I got to the Senate is no one wanted to talk to me about it. There were too many scars. Too much pain. Too many people had been beat up by what had happened four or five years before. I'd try to raise the issue and people would say, "Look, I just don't want to go there again. I tried that five years ago. I tried that three years ago, and all I got was grief." That's the impression I got when I walked into the Senate. And I want you to know it wasn't just Republicans. It was senators who had been burned by the way this issue was discussed and approached and just really didn't want to talk about it anymore. That's what I first learned.
The second thing I've come to realize is how truly complicated this issue has become. This is not a simple issue. Both sides like to talk about this issue like it is an easy yes or no answer. It is much more complicated than that. And those of us involved in the debate need to start to recognize that openly. That both sides of it raise valid points.
The people who are against illegal immigration and make that the core of their argument view it as only a law and order issue. But we know it's much more than that. Yes, it is a law and order issue, but it's also a human issue. These are real people. These are human beings who have children, and hopes, and dreams. These are people that are doing what virtually any of us would do if our children were hungry, if their countries were dangerous, if they had no hope for their future. And too often in our conversation about immigration, that perspective is lost. Who among us would not do whatever it took to feed our children and to provide for them a better future?
And yet the other side of the debate is guilty of over simplifying it. Illegal immigration is a real problem. It is not an illegitimate problem. It is real. It has consequences. One of the great untold stories in America today is that no community understands that better than ours. It is Latinos. It is Hispanics who see the impact of illegal immigration up close and personal, both the human element of it, but also its costs and the burdens that it places on our society in places where it's uncontrolled.
We also need to begin to recognize that we are an extremely generous country. A million people a year immigrate to the United States legally. There isn't any country in the world that comes close to that. We need to recognize that there are probably 50 million people, including many in Latin America, maybe your family members, who are waiting to come here legally. Every single day in my offices here in the Senate, I have people come in and say, "My mom has been waiting. My sister has been waiting for fifteen years. They've paid the fees, they've waited their turn." What's our message to them? Come illegally, it's cheaper and quicker? That's not an answer either.
Last but not least, there's this notion that sometimes I feel like people are demanding their rights. The truth is there is no right to illegally immigrate to the United States. And when we talk about illegal immigration, it's not about demanding rights. It's about appealing to the compassion of the most compassionate nation in the history of the world.
Why is this issue simplified? I'll tell you right now: because it is powerful politics. It is a powerful political issue. I have seen people use it to raise money. I have seen people take the legitimate concerns about illegal immigration and turn it into panic. And turn that panic into fear and anger. And turn that anger into votes and money.
I have also seen people go in the other direction. Anyone who disagrees with their ideas on illegal immigration is anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic. That's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. Everything is about politics. I've seen it firsthand.
Three months ago I started to work with some of my colleagues on a concept. How can we accommodate children that are in this country through no fault of their own undocumented, and how can we do it in a way that unites us, not divides us? How can we do it in a way that honors our legacy as a nation of immigrants, but also as a nation of laws? And I proposed some specific ideas, and I publicly talked about it.
The reaction from many on the left is an immediate dismissal. I saw people say on the left say that I was proposing a new three-fifths compromise, harkening back to the days when a slave was only three-fifths of a person. I was accused of supporting apartheid. I was accused of supporting a "DREAM Act without a dream." Of course a few months later, the President takes a similar idea and implements it through executive action, and now it's the greatest idea in the world.
I don't care who gets the credit. I don't. But it exposes the fact that this issue is all about politics for some people. Not just Democrats, Republicans too.
The proof is, after actions last week, all the questions are about what a brilliant tactical move it is. Not from you, but from the people who cover politics. All they want to talk about it is: "What does this mean for the election? What does this mean politically? Wasn't this a brilliant political tactic?" I guess if this is what this issue is about to you, then maybe it was.
But I wasn't looking for a talking point. I wasn't looking to influence the election in November. I was looking to help these kids that I've met. These aren't kids I've read about in the newspaper. These are people I have met. Who came here when they were five. Who didn't even know they were undocumented until they applied to go to college. Who were the valedictorians of their school. Who want to be molecular biologists. Who got accepted to an Ivy League school. And we're going to deport them in a country that needs more molecular biologists. That's what it was about for me. That's still what it's about for me. And only if it's about that will this ever get solved.
As long as this issue of immigration is a political ping pong that each side uses to win elections and influence votes, I'm telling you it won't get solved. Because there are too many people who have concluded that this issue unresolved is more powerful. They want it to stay unresolved. It's easier to use to influence elections. It's easier to use to raise money.
The only way to solve it is a balanced approach that recognizes that this is complicated. And I think the way you have to do it is you have to approach it, number one, by understanding that we have to win the confidence of the American people back. The confidence that we're serious about discouraging illegal immigration in the future, and that's why enforcement processes are important as part of any reform. But I also think we have to reform our legal immigration system. I tell people all the time, the single greatest contributor to illegal immigration is a burdensome, bureaucratic, and complicated legal immigration process.
There are millions of people in this country that would go back home if they thought they could come back next year again to work in their seasonal jobs. And I know of no one that wouldn't rather emigrate legally, if they could afford it.
There are some people that are out of status through no fault of their own. Someone told them they were an immigration lawyer and they gave the guy a $5,000 check and the guy vanished. Now they're undocumented.
If we are able to reform and modernize our legal immigration system, if we can win the confidence of the American people back, we'll get after the issue of the millions of people who are undocumented.
And the great question then is, "Well, what do you do about them?" And I've talked about what you do about the kids. What about everybody else? Here's the truth, if we're honest with ourselves: We don't know yet because it's not easy. I know we're not going to round up and deport 12 million people. I know we're not going to grant amnesty to 12 million people. And somewhere between those two ideas is the solution. That will never be easy. But I promise you it will get easier to find if we have a legal immigration system that works. And the confidence of the American people that we're serious about enforcing our laws.
Now some may say that is too much to ask, this balanced approach. Well, it is if it continues to be politicized. I was tempted to come here today and rip open the policies of the Administration. I know in a few moments you'll hear from the President. I was tempted to come here and tell you, "Hey, he hasn't been here in three years, what a coincidence, it's an election year." I was tempted to tell you, "Why didn't he make this issue a priority?" Well, I guess I just did tell you. But, that's not the direction I want to go in my speech. Because if I did, if that's what I came here to talk to you about, then I would be doing the exact same thing that I just criticized. The exact same thing that I just criticized.
So, is it possible for us to reach that point? Let me close by telling you why I think we should and we must.
I really rely on a story I recently learned of, I didn't know this story before, I recently learned of it. It is the story of an elderly man. He came to the U.S. legally and then decided to go back to his country because he was a little discouraged by the way things were here and he decided to go back to his country again. And then after a few years there, things weren't going well and he decided to come back. Now, I don't know this for sure, but when he came back to the United States, I think he thought that since he had come here legally once before, he was still able to reenter. But he was wrong. I think he just didn't realize. I don't know this for sure, but I think he didn't realize that if you leave for a year, your immigrant visa expires and you have to renew it.
So, he was an elderly man and he was disabled. He didn't speak any English. And he gets to the United States and immediately he's detained and questioned. And he's told he has to appear in court where he is ordered deported. And I just think to myself, imagine this: You are elderly, disabled, don't speak the language, confronting American jurisprudence. He must have been panicked.
But somehow, along the way, because of the conditions in his country and all kinds of other factors at the time, the U.S. said, "You don't have a legal right to be here, but we're going to let you stay. Because your case, your story, touched our heart and our legacy as a nation of immigrants."
This story matters a lot to me because years later that man was so grateful to this country that he would spend hours with his grandson talking about how extraordinary America was. What a special country it was. And today his grandson serves in the U.S. Senate and stands before you here today.
Knowing that we have been in the past, a nation that has been able to balance our laws and our compassion. Our desire to live in a nation of laws, but also to have a nation of immigrants.
And so I close by asking you: How did we ever get to this point? How can immigration be a controversial and divisive issue in a nation of immigrants? How can a country built by people that came from everywhere else be so divided over who gets to come here now?
And maybe the best way to begin to confront it is to remind ourselves of who we are. And how tightly wound it is into the essence of our greatness. The Statue of Liberty is often seen as a symbol of immigration. That is not why it was built. The Statue of Liberty was not built as a symbol of immigration, it was built as an ode to the Republic -- Republicanism, not the Republican Party. Although some people claim, but I'm kidding.
The reason why it became a symbol of immigration is because immigrants from Europe when they would come into Ellis Island, they would sail right past it. And the first thing they would see about America was that statue.
And in the turn of the last century, there was a poem that was written and inscribed onto a plaque there. I think it reminds us of who we were, of what makes us different, and of who we must remain. And when I read those words, I am reminded of the journey my own parents took. Of people who were desperate to provide their children a life better than theirs. Of making sure that every opportunity that they did not have would live in the lives of their children and grandchildren.
This sentiment exists among people all over the world, but only here in our country, has that dream become reality time and time again. And so, let us remind ourselves once again of the words of that poem, which call to us to answer the simple question: what do we love more? Do we love our parties more than our country? Do we care about the next election more than we do about the future? Are we still that beacon of hope for the world? Are we still the country our parents found when they came here, or will our children inherit a different one? One more like the rest of the world. Are we still the nation that believed in these words?
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"