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Public Statements

2012 National Immigration Integration Conference

By:
Date:
Location: Baltimore, MD

Good morning. It's great to be with you. How many of you are visiting our great city and State from out of state?

Awesome. Well, we're glad you're here. Welcome to Maryland and to Baltimore, the greatest city in America.

We are the original land of the free and the home of the brave. And it was in our waters out there in our port that that national anthem was penned, and I'm going to come back to that in a second.

But let me say a very special word of thanks right off the bat to the National Partnership for New Americans, and to our host, Gustavo Torres, and everybody that works with CASA de Maryland. Thank you very, very much.

Thanks in particular for the very important work that CASA does, and that the Partnership is accomplishing throughout our country and, of course, here in our State,… helping to empower our neighbors and helping to reinvigorate the American dream.

You know, in my first term we created a Council for New Americans and they did some great work. Tom Perez was our Secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, and he went on to become a prominent member of the Obama Administration in the Justice Department, as have many of our cabinet members. I regret that I have but one cabinet to give to my country.

But among the recommendations for the Maryland Council for New Americans were workforce recommendations on improving licensing, credentialing, and the like. Another one was citizenship recommendations, creating a more robust network to allow people who can apply for citizenship to apply for citizenship. Financial services recommendations, because we saw the way the sub-prime market was affecting so many new American families,… and also Government access recommendations.

And one intervening force that happened in the meantime was a couple of years ago, two legislative sessions ago, we passed a State version of the Dream Act in our legislature.

And now that is up on the ballot, because those who were afraid of the Dream Act got up the signatures to petition it to the ballot. I know that there are other states that have had some version of the Dream Act when it comes to in-State tuition for immigrant children. This is the first one, I believe, that's ever actually gone to the ballot, where the people will be asked straight-up what kind of country they want their children to live in and inherit.

Let me share with you a quick story, since Gustavo got me in a, you know, memory lane sort of thing.

I was running for re-election in 2010, after having created the Council for New Americans, and after doing some good work, including driving way down the infant mortality rate among Latino moms, which had been spiking in our State until we attacked that and did a better job of reaching out.

But in the debates with my opponent in 2010, one of the final televised debates, he was mocking me--can you believe it--for using the term New Americans. And as I recall the moment, he, with a sneer, and with his in-house studio audience partly packed with people that were as like-minded as he was, he said, New Americans--New Americans, with a sneer. He said, "When someone breaks into your house in the middle of the night, do you call them a new family member?"

I knew that the second he said that that Anthony Brown and I would get 99.9 percent of all New Americans in the State of Maryland.

And, in fact, we did. The first time out we had been victorious by a seven point margin. Four years later it was a fourteen point margin.

And I'm absolutely convinced that a part of that victory was attributable to the very clear difference between the two visions that we offer the people of our State. One was a vision of an America that's shrinking, where there are less opportunities, and where we're moving back. The other was a vision of an America that's always growing and expanding more opportunities and moving forward.

From our founding we have always been a State, even when others were falling back, that chooses to move ahead.

So your work is important to that life-changing opportunity, expanding, dream-achieving work that is at the heart of the American dream. It is the work that bolsters the U.S. economy and also our country's fiscal situation through the $90 billion that immigrants pay in taxes throughout our country year after year.

That's one of the few times you'll ever use a tax line as an applause line, but we'll make the most of it.

It is work that we believe in here in Maryland. In 2008, as I mentioned, we created the Council for New Americans. And I wanted to talk with you today about a truth that really lies at the heart of the American Dream and it is this--the stronger we make our country, the more she gives back to us, and the more she gives back to our children and our grandchildren.

I mentioned before that it is fitting and right and proper that you're here, since we're 45 days away from passing the Dream Act, but you also arrived here during the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. And as Governor here, it is my official duty to encourage you to spend as much money in our economy seeing the sights as possible.

And one of those sights is just down at the end of the peninsula, you go down right here on Light Street, take a left on Fort Avenue and take it until it takes you right directly into the front gates of Fort McHenry.

In 1814 Washington had been burned to the ground, the people of Baltimore could see the glow from the fires coming up from the south--from the direction over Camden Yards. And then the British General at the top said that he was going to march on Baltimore, he was going to dine in Baltimore--because even then we had great restaurants--and then he was going to burn Baltimore to the ground.

But the people of Baltimore had something else in mind. Instead of running away, they hunkered down. Instead of moving back, they rushed forward to Fort McHenry, to the ramparts there, they dug trenches across what is current-day Patterson Park. And, get this, 50 percent of the defenders of Baltimore were immigrants, had not even been born in this country. Many were African American citizens of a still very imperfect, slave-holding country.

The Star Spangled banner--that giant, giant flag that they had commissioned by Mary Pickersgill, a woman-owned business in Baltimore, and her daughters. There was another little set of hands that sewed that flag together, and they were the hands of Grace Wisher, a 13 year old indentured African American servant girl.

So your very flag, the stars and stripes, were sewn together by black and white hands; hands of bondage, hands of freedom. And I would submit to you that the common thread that held those stars and stripes together is the same common thread that holds us together now, and it is the thread of human dignity.

Is it the dignity of work, it is the dignity of a job, it is the dignity of every child's home, and it is the dignity of every individual.

We progress on the strengths, not on the weakness of our neighbors. That, too, is an American truth. We move forward when we expand opportunity to more people, rather than to fewer, regardless of where they or their grandparents or parents happen to have been born.

And with this in mind, you picked this ideal time to come here. The Dream Act is on the ballot here in November. Often throughout our State's history, we have been the State that first sets the example. And I believe that we will do so with the Dream Act. Why it is important? I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but as Dr. Martin Luther King once said, sometimes it's "it's important that you preach to the choir because if you don't, they could stop singing."
So the Dream Act is important, because in our changing world, our ability to create jobs and move our country forward depends on our willingness to educate, innovate and rebuild for our future and our children's future.

Back in the 1880′s, in Baltimore when we were seeing successive waves of German immigrants coming to Baltimore, the leading mothers and fathers of Baltimore created some 15 public elementary schools that taught reading and math in German. Why did they do that? Well, because they were decent people, yes. But they also were people of pragmatic, practical common sense. They knew that these immigrant children would be inheriting this country, along with their own children. And they wanted their children to grow up in a country that was stronger, more inclusive, with more opportunities and higher levels of education, because they understood the more highly educated a citizenry, the more economic opportunity for everyone.

So we need your help. As you leave here today, as you go back to take that break in your hotel room before going off with your friends to see Fort McHenry, I'd like you to help us here with the Dream Act by going online and encouraging people to contribute to the campaign. Right now we're running at about 57 percent, some polls would say higher. But it is not over until it's over. And we need your help.

You know, in a very real sense, because of the blood we share, not only with one another, but the blood we share with our parents and grandparents, we were all once strangers in a strange land. My parents' grandparents were mostly all immigrant people, Irish and Germans, and their first language might not have been English--but the hopes and dreams they had for their children, they were purely American.

And so, too, are the hopes and dreams of Marylanders like my friend Maria Welch, the daughter of new American parents who came to the United States from Costa Rica and Columbia. And at one time Maria was homeless. Today she's the CEO of a $10 million small business, located in Columbia, Maryland. Her business has served more than 24,000 patients. In 2008, I had the distinct honor of swearing her in as Chair of the Governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs.

Second story. The American dream is also woven in our State through the story and the actions and the hard work of Prem Agarwal. Prem came to the United States from India in 1967 with a suitcase and $1,000 to his name. A few years later, while working for a grocery company, he tried unsuccessfully to convince his employer to build an ice manufacturing plant in Maryland. And when they declined to do so, he decided to do it himself. And for the next 10 years he ran a successful ice manufacturing business. Today he is President and CEO of a successful lumber and tire company in Prince George's County, Maryland, called G.E. Frisco.

Third story. The American dream is also a story told in the healing innovation of a Maryland company called Fyodor, which was launched by Dr. Eddy Agbo. Dr. Agbo is an immigrant from Nigeria. Fyodor is working on cost effective ways to test for malaria, reminding us all that our greatness as a people isn't about how many smart bombs we're able to send against our enemies half way around the globe, it is determined by how and to what degree we can unleash the weapons of mass salvation, to heal these sorts of diseases that take so many lives, especially of children all around the world, that we have the power and the ability, as Americans, to actually cure and solve and prevent.

In conclusion, we live in changing times, and that is undeniable. The question is what sort of change will we make of it? As we search for the good intentions of our neighbors, especially those who might disagree with us about policy choices that we need to make together for a better country,… as we search for common ground and a better way forward, we need to ask one another--including the leaders of the Republican party--we need to ask without any anger, meanness or fear, how much less do you really think would be good for our country?

How much less education would be good for our children? How many fewer college degrees will make our economy more competitive? How much less public safety would improve living in our towns and cities? How many family farms can we no longer afford to save? How many hungry American children can we no longer afford to feed?

Our parents and grandparents did not come across an ocean, settle a continent and do hard, back-breaking, oftentimes life-threatening work, so their children and grandchildren could live in a country of less.

America is not a country of less opportunities, America is a country of more opportunities. The opportunity to work, the opportunity to build up a secure and more loving home. The opportunity to give your own children a better future.
And the United States of America, despite some of those who would doubt it, is still the greatest job-generating opportunity-expanding country ever created by a free people in the history of civilization.

And that is true, not despite new Americans--that is true because of new Americans. That is true--

That is true not despite immigrant people, but because of immigrant people.

That is true not because of those who would have some of us live in the shadows of darkness, but it is true because of the heart that every human being possesses, and the desire we have to raise our children in the fullness and the life of opportunity, where they can become all that they can be.

That's what America is about. That's why the Star Spangled Banner was defended. And that's why the Stars and Stripes is still stitched together today by the thread of human dignity that each of you sews into the fabric of a great and growing nation.

Thanks very, very much.


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