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Pelosi Delivers Speech at National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast

Location: Washington, DC

Pelosi Delivers Speech at National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke this morning at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast on issues of significance to the Hispanic community including education and immigration. Below are her remarks:

"Buenos dias. Gracias, Reverend Hector Cortez, for your kind words and warm welcome.

"President Luis Cortes, it is wonderful to see you again. After I addressed this gathering two years ago, I was honored by your visit to my office to outline an initiative that you had just launched - the Hispanic Capacity Project. Congratulations on the progress this project has made in meeting the needs of the community, and truly providing, ‘nueva esperanza.'

"Congratulations also on being named one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America by Time magazine. That is a strong measure of your leadership, and the influence that Nueva Esperanza has had in improving the lives of so many Hispanic families.

"It is an honor to join all of you once again as House Democratic Leader. As you may know, I come from San Francisco. St. Francis of Assisi is our patron saint. It was St. Francis who said, ‘Preach the gospel, and sometimes use words.'

"Thank you for preaching the gospel through your work. After all, it is our faith that enables us to lift the work we do to a higher purpose. It is our faith that leads us to believe in the dignity and worth of every person, and to pursue the policies that affirm that value. And it is our faith that teaches us to respect the diversity of all of God's children, and to demonstrate that respect by allowing all people to live up to their God-given potential.

"That is why so many of the policies we pursue should not be viewed as legislation, or regulations, or programs. They should be statements of our values.

"The bible says ‘Honor thy father and thy mother.' Preaching the gospel in our deeds means working to guarantee the strength of Social Security, which is such a lifeline for so many Hispanic seniors, survivors, and people with disabilities. Millions of Hispanic seniors depend on Social Security for more than half of their retirement income. And for the majority of elderly Hispanic women, Social Security represents their only retirement income.

"We must not let Social Security's guaranteed benefit become a guaranteed gamble.

"In the Book of Hebrews it is written: ‘Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.' Today, creating those ‘level paths' means providing health care access for all.

"Right now, one in three Hispanics under the age of 65 does not have access to health insurance. A child's chance to grow and lean requires good health; a family's chance to succeed depends on the physical ability to work; and all of those depend on access to health care.

"Democrats believe that access to health care is a right, and not a privilege. Whether it is fighting for jobs, or increasing the minimum wage, or access to health care, or protecting Social Security - all of the battles we fight are to strengthen America by allowing more people to achieve its promise.

"Nowhere is this clearer than in two areas that, in combination, have truly made our country the great nation we are today: immigration and education.

"In Leviticus, the Israelites are told by God: ‘When a newcomer lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The newcomer living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were newcomers in Egypt.'

"We are all newcomers to this country. America was built by newcomers who brought their hope, optimism, and determination to build a better life for themselves and their families.

"With each wave of immigrants, America has become not only more diverse, but also more open and equal; not only culturally richer, but also spiritually stronger. And it is your faith, commitment to family, and love of country that strengthen America today.

"Your story is the story of America. And together, we can write the next chapter. To do that, we need a thoughtful, comprehensive immigration policy.

"What we don't need is vigilantism, and that is why I support the McCain-Kennedy-Gutierrez-Kolbe bill. This initiative will truly secure our borders. It will allow families to be reunified. And it will allow millions of immigrant workers to come out of the shadowy world they are now forced to inhabit, and work openly with the respect they deserve. I hope the President will join me in supporting it.

"And America truly becomes the land of opportunity for the newest Americans when we guarantee a quality education for all. I know that education is of the highest priority to the Hispanic community.

"Families cannot do it alone. It requires a strong public policy commitment. You are doing your part, and more Latinos are going to college than ever before.

"But as we send our young people to college, we must not send them into crushing debt. We must also enable more Latino high school students to graduate with the prospect of going on to college by reducing the high school dropout rate. And we must enable every elementary school-age child to learn and to dream in safe, modern schools where children can learn, teachers can teach, and parents can participate.

"Just this week, House Democrats announced a comprehensive education agenda called ‘Strengthening our Schools.' This initiative will mean better schools, better teachers, and a better chance to go to college for the 8 million Latino children currently in our schools. Education is truly the doorway to opportunity, and we must do more to open that door wider to all Americans.

"Our Founding Fathers understood that faith was a deeply personal commitment, but they also recognized that Americans are a faith-filled people, and the personally-held faith of millions leads to great acts of conscience, charity, and community.

"In 1960, when John F. Kennedy was running for President, his critics raised questions about whether his faith should disqualify him from the presidency. Then-Senator Kennedy went to a gathering of ministers in Houston, and said in his address -- the issue is ‘not what kind of church I believe in…but what kind of America I believe in.'

"The America he believed in is the one we believe in today: one in which each person can practice his or her own faith in his or her own way; one in which the hopes and dreams of every child are met with an education system that gives them the knowledge and opportunity to achieve them; one in which we make the stunning advances in health and medicine available to all who need them; one in which poverty is eradicated, and the strength of our economy grants all who are willing to work an opportunity to succeed; one in which a lifetime of work provides a retirement of dignity and independence; and one in which we recognize that our strength comes from our diversity.

"This is certainly true of the Democrats in the House who I am privileged to lead.

"There are more Hispanics serving in the House of Representatives today than at any time in American history. This includes Congressman Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Chairman of the Democratic Caucus, the first Latino in history elected to the Leadership in Congress.

"In addition to the contributions Hispanic-Americans are making to the professional and civic life of America, we are particularly grateful to those who are serving in America's defense. Overseas, more than 200 Hispanic-American soldiers have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hundreds more have been wounded. We mourn the loss of those who have made the supreme sacrifice. And we are deeply grateful for the courage, the patriotism, and the sacrifice of all who are serving.

"Our mission is to build an America and a future worthy of their sacrifice. An America that is strong, secure, and welcoming. An America that is a place of ‘nueva esperanza.'

"That is the America we believe in. That is the America we aspire to create. And by working together and preaching the gospel - sometimes using words - that is the America we can achieve.

"Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America."

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