June 19, 2009
Obama Urges Immigration Reform at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast
President Obama told an audience at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast that the country must be guided by the principle "love thy neighbor as thy self" as it seeks immigration reform.
"We must also clarify the status of millions who are here illegally, many who have put down roots," the President said. ""For those who wish to become citizens, we should require them to pay a penalty and pay taxes, learn English, go to the back of the line, behind those who played by the rules. ...We must give life to that fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, that I am my sister's keeper."
The president started his speech with his usual reminder that America is a nation of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and non-believers and spoke about the importance of prayer.
"But prayer is more than a last resort," he said. "Prayer helps us search for meaning in our own lives, and it helps us find the vision and the strength to see the world that we want to build."
Here's a portion of the speech as provided by the White House:
At a time when there's no shortage of challenges to occupy our time, it's even more important to step back, and to give thanks, and to seek guidance from each other -- but most importantly, from God. That's what we've come here to do.
We can begin by giving thanks for the legacy that allows us to come together. For it was the genius of America's Founders to protect the freedom of all religion, and those who practice no religion at all. So as we join in prayer, we remember that this is a nation of Christians and Muslims and Jews and Hindus and non-believers. It is this freedom that allows faith to flourish within our borders. It is this freedom that makes our nation stronger.
For those of us who draw on faith as a guiding force in our lives, prayer has many purposes. For many, it is a source of support when times are hard. President Lincoln, who Reverend Cortes mentioned, once said, "I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go." And while the challenges that I've faced pale in comparison to Lincoln's, I know that more than once I've been filled with the same conviction over the last five months.
But prayer is more than a last resort. Prayer helps us search for meaning in our own lives, and it helps us find the vision and the strength to see the world that we want to build. And that's what I'd like to talk about for just a few minutes today.
As I look out at this audience, I'm reminded of the power of faith in America -- faith in God, and a faith in the promise of this great country. Each of us come from many different places. We trace our roots back to different nations, and we represent a broad spectrum of personal and political beliefs. But all of us pray to God. All of us share a determination to build a better future for our children and grandchildren. And that must be a starting point for common ground, and for the America that we want to build.
Like some of you, I am the son of a parent who came to these shores in search of a better future. And while I may be the first African American President, there is nothing unique or unusual about the opportunities that this country gave to me. Instead, like generations of Americans, I could count on the basic promise that no matter what you look like, or where you come from, America will let you go as far as your dreams and your hard work will carry you.
And that promise is at the heart of the American story. It's a story shared by many of you -- by clergy and members of Congress; by business leaders and community organizers. It's the story of every young child who has the opportunity to go farther in life than their parents were able to go. It's the story of a young girl who could rise from a public housing project to be nominated for the highest court in the land. (Applause.) And I am confident that it's a story that will someday be told by the first Hispanic President of the United States of America. (Applause.)
But we know there is much more work to be done to extend the promise of a better life to all our children and grandchildren. In all that we do, we must be guided by that simple command that binds all great religions together: Love thy neighbor as thyself.
In the 21st century, we've learned that this truth is central not just to our own lives, but to our success as a nation. If our children cannot get the world-class education they need to succeed, then America will not be able to compete with other countries. If our families cannot afford health care, then the costs go up for all of us -- individuals, businesses, and government. If folks down the street can't pay their mortgage and folks across town can't find a job, then that pain is going to trickle into other parts of our economy.
And that's why we've come together on behalf of the future that we want to build -- one where all of our children go to the best schools, all our people can go to work and make a living, all our families can afford health care; and prosperity is extended to everybody. Together, we must build a future where the promise of America is kept for a new generation.
We also know that keeping this promise means upholding America's tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. Those things aren't contradictory; they're complementary. That's why I'm committed to passing comprehensive immigration reform as President of the United States. (Applause.)
The American people -- the American people believe in immigration, but they also believe that we can't tolerate a situation where people come to the United States in violation of the law, nor can we tolerate employers who exploit undocumented workers in order to drive down wages. That's why we're taking steps to strengthen border security, and we must build on those efforts. We must also clarify the status of millions who are here illegally, many who have put down roots. For those who wish to become citizens, we should require them to pay a penalty and pay taxes, learn English, go to the back of the line behind those who played by the rules. That is the fair, practical, and promising way forward, and that's what I'm committed to passing as President of the United States. (Applause.)
We must never forget that time and again, the promise of America has been renewed by immigrants who make their story part of the American story. We see it in every state of our country. We see it in our families and in our neighborhoods. As President, I've been honored to see it demonstrated by the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States.
Last month, I had the honor of welcoming a group of our service members as citizens for the very first time. In that crowd, there were faces from every corner of the world. And one man from Nicaragua -- Jeonathan Zapata -- had waited his whole life to serve our country even though he was not yet a citizen. "By serving in the military," he said, "I can also give back to the United States." He's done so in Afghanistan, and he even helped man the 400,000th aircraft landing aboard the USS Kitty Hawk.
And Jeonathan's story is not unique either. He's part of a proud legacy of service. For generations, Hispanic Americans have served with great commitment and valor, and there are now nearly 150,000 Hispanic Americans serving under our flag. And today we are proud -- (applause) -- today we are proud to welcome several of them who are wounded warriors recovering at Walter Reed. Please join me in honoring their service, and in keeping them and all of our troops in our thoughts and prayers -- please. (Applause.)
These troops have dedicated their lives to serving their fellow Americans. Their example -- like those of all of our men and women in uniform -- should challenge us to ask what we can do to better serve our communities and our country, because the greatest responsibility that we have as citizens is to one another.
That's the spirit we need to build; that's the America that we seek. And to do so, we must look past our divisions to serve the hopes and dreams that we hold in common. We must give life to that fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, that I am my sister's keeper.
Scripture tells us, "The word is very near to you. It is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it." Today, let us pray for the strength to find the word in our hearts, and for the vision to see the America that we can build together as one nation, and as one people.