Thank you very, very much. It is such a pleasure to be here at this 2015 National Immigrant Integration Conference, and I love the idea of integration. We are going to be emphasizing that, were going to do as much of it as we possibly can. I want to thank the National Partnership for New Americans and the New York Immigration Coalition for bringing us together, as well as everyone from the Fair Immigration Reform Movement. You couldn’t have picked a better city for this meeting. We would not be New York without the generations of immigrants from everywhere, Asian, Pacific Islander, Latino, African, Caribbean, and European, Middle Eastern, everyone who worked hard and raised families, and put down roots in this country. And we should never forget that, and we should never let anyone forget that.
This story needs to be told over and over again. I want to thank my friend and a great leader on so many issues, but particularly on this one, Louis Gutierrez. Few people have done as much as Louis to make sure that when it comes to Americas policies on immigration, that those policies reflect Americas values. He does it all, he organizes, strategizes, preaches, teaches, inspires, conjoles, whatever it takes to keep this movement moving forward. And you know that he understands the fight to ensure that America’s immigrants are treated with dignity, is he just said, bound up with all the other fights to advance human dignity and human rights. The fight to defend workers’ rights, to end poverty, reduce economic inequality, the fight for women’s rights, LGBT rights, and human rights, here and abroad.
Ultimately, all of these struggles come down to the same fundamental question. Whose humanity will we recognize? And Louis’s answer is the right answer, everyone’s. That’s why he is a great congressman and a great leader, and why I’m so proud to have his support in this campaign to become President of the United States. To all the lawyers, and advocates, and organizers, and experts, and immigrants, who are here today, I want to thank you for what you do every day. You are at the frontlines of one of the most complex and emotionally wrenching areas of American law and policy. I know that you advocate for children that are trying to navigate the system alone.
I just said hello to a young man that I’ve seen before, because he serves on the wait staff of a restaurant that I go to. He came here alone at 15, and is making his way. You help people that are desperate for jobs, to get work permits. You help parents get legal status so that they can stay with their kids. That means we keep families together, instead of breaking them apart. You do your jobs expertly, with great empathy, and a deep commitment to justice. I don’t think you get thanked nearly enough. So thank you, thank you for doing what is so important and right in our country.
I want to thank somebody really special, which I’m sure is going to embarrass her, but I’ll do it anyway. Lorella Praeli, who was born in Peru, came to the United States as a little girl for medical treatment. Eventually her and her mother and sister moved here permanently, her sister and her father are here with us today. Lorella excelled all the way through school, when it came time for college she did what millions of high school students do every year. Fill out that ridiculous, long, confusing FASFA form, which I am going to eliminate when I am President of the United States.
Honestly, you should be able to do that in a page of half a page, so that’s a promise. Now, it was when filling out the form that she found out that she was undocumented. But, she went to college anyways because her grades got her a full scholarship. She decided that she didn’t want to live in fear or secrecy, like so many undocumented immigrants feel that they must do. She was convinced that this was her country, and that she had something special to offer. She came forward, publically, as undocumented. She joined the United We DREAM movement, advocating for all of the young people brought here as children. In part, because of those DREAMers like her, President Obama implemented DACA, he implemented DAPA. Now Lorella is the director of Latino outreach on my campaign. I am so lucky to have her. And listen to this, because this is really amazing, because after this conference she is heading down to Washington, where tomorrow at the National Archives, President Obama will swear her in as a citizen of the United States of America.
Lorella’s story, like so many other Americans stories, remind us of who we are as a people. We are a big hearted country, and we should never forget that. We shouldn’t let anybody on the public stage, say that we are mean spirited, that we are going to build walls, mentally and physically, that we’re going to shut doors, and we’re going to lose the talents and the contributions of millions of people who are here doing the best that they can. Building lives for themselves and their children. We are a country where people of all backgrounds, of all nations or origin, all languages, all religions, all races can make a home. America was built by immigrants.
You know so well our economy depends on immigrants. Our future will all be written in part by immigrants. Every single one of us, no matter how long ago our ancestors arrived in this land, whether they came by foot, or boat, or plane, across the Pacific, or the Atlantic, or the Rio Grande, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the millions of immigrants who have helped to make America the greatest country in the world. I disagree with those who say “make America great,” we are great, and we’re going to stay great, and we’re going to get greater.
I wish all of this could go without saying, but now more than ever it needs to be said. We are hearing all kinds of anti-immigrant sentiment in the news right now. Candidates for president are calling immigrants drug runners and rapists. They promise if elected to round-up and deport millions of people, build a mammoth wall, militarize the border, tear families apart. After the terrorist shootings in San Bernardino, at a time when a lot of Americans are fearful of future attacks here at home, some candidates are stoking those fears more, and turning people against Muslim Americans, saying some really hateful, hurtful things.
Meanwhile, our countries policies toward immigrants and also toward refugees and asylum seekers are being hotly debated. Now this election, which was always going to have a big impact on our future, has now become even more consequential. So I’m here today to tell you where I stand, what I believe, and what I will fight for as President, and here’s my starting point. Our immigration system is broken, and we need to keep families together. Millions of undocumented people are living, and working and raising their families here. We could add hundreds of billions of dollars to our GDP, by passing comprehensive immigration reform. Which is why people across the political spectrum from labor unions, to the US chamber of commerce, supported the 2013 senate bill.
But ultimately for me, this is far more than an economic issue, it’s more than a political issue. At its heart, this is a family issue. If we say that we support families in this country, then that has to mean something. I want to put an end to families being torn apart or hardworking, law-abiding, parents having to prepare their kids for the day that mom or dad might be taken away. That’s why I still passionately support comprehensive immigration reform legislation. With a path to full and equal citizenship.
If you work hard, if you love this country, and do nothing more than contribute to it and want to build a future for yourselves and your children, we should give you a way to come forward and become a citizen. And you know what, a majority of Americans agree. They know it’s the right thing to do. Not a single republican candidate, not one, clearly and consistently supports a real path to citizenship. Now you know, senator Rubio helped write the 2013 immigration bill, now he renounces it. They’re all moving toward the extreme, and away from the rest of America.
Now I know it was a blow to a lot of people in this room, and across our country, when that 2013 bill failed. We we’re so close. But we can’t stay discouraged, we’ve got to keep pushing congress to act, and we’ve got to keep raising the stakes. So candidates and elected officials know there will be consequences if they do not support comprehensive immigration reform. Having said that, we also cannot wait for the congress. Too many families’ futures hang in the balance. So you can count on me to defend President Obama’s executive actions on DACA and DAPA when I am President.
In fact, I would go even further than that. There are even more undocumented people with deep ties and a history of service in their communities, that deserve the chance to stay like the parents of DREAMers and I will fight for them too.
Before coming out here today, the congressman and I had coffee with the Soirez family. Osman and Jonalee and their daughter Marcie, Clarisma and Angie. Osman and Jonalee are from Honduras, they made their journey to the states years ago to get away from rising violence, and to give their daughters the chance at a better life. Now the Soirez’s live on Long Island. They work hard. They’re a close and loving family, and they’re dealing with the harsh reality of a broken immigration system, every day. Because their dad is undocumented, their mom has temporary protected status, two daughters are protected by DACA, and one is a US Citizen. So in this family of 5, there are 4 different statuses. Think how complicated and frightening this must be.
I don’t know how anybody could sit down and talk to the families and young people I’ve talked to, including just now, with the Soirezes, hear their story, see how much they love each other, how grateful they are for being here and how much they love this country, and not think somethings got to change. These are real live human beings. Too often our system fails to see or recognize that. We have got to do better for the Soirezes and the millions of other families trying to lead decent lives in America just like the rest of us.
Well I know, of course, we’re not just a nation of immigrants, we’re a nation of laws too, and we do have to enforce our laws. But we should do it in a humane, targeted and effective way. I agree with President Obama, we don’t have endless resources, so we need to use them wisely. That means prioritize who to deport. Dangerous criminals? Yes. DREAMers and their families? No. There are people in immigration detention right now who are on a hunger strike. We need to be focused on detention conditions, and as President I’ll close private immigration detention centers.
This is a critical government responsibility, we should not be outsourcing it to anyone else. I’ll also end family detention. We have good alternatives and we should use them. And I’ll work to ensure that every single refugee that seeks asylum in the United States has a fair chance to tell his or her story. That is the least we can offer people who are fleeing persecution and devastation.
And finally, we’ve got to do more to help people who are eligible for citizenship, take that last step. There are millions of people in America who could be naturalized, but for one reason or another, they’re not. So let’s help more of our neighbors claim their rights. It’s so powerful, so precious to be a citizen of the United States. To be able to vote in our elections, to have a voice in our future, and I want to take down the barriers that are holding people back.
So here are a few things that I will do. I will work to expand fee waivers, so more people seeking naturalization, can get a break on the cost. I will increase access to language programs, to help people boost their English proficiency. I will enhance outreach and education so more people know their options, and are engaged in the process. I was committed to these issues as a senator from New York, and I will be as President. I don’t want anyone who could be a citizen to miss out on that opportunity.
There’s something I say a lot on the campaign trail. When somebody tells you what they want to do, believe them. People who are running for President are telling America what they want to do, and by telling them that, they are telling us who they are. They are promising to enact harsher laws, they are telling us how they see immigrants as threats and criminals, and they are sharing their vision for our country that would drag us backward. Well I have a different vision, I believe in an America where everyone is treated with dignity, no matter who you are or where you come from. And where undocumented children who have been here their whole lives, and feel like Americans, are treated like Americans. Where families are not ripped apart, but are treated humanely and respectfully.
I believe in an America that is strong, secure, and true to our values. I know that is possible. As President, I will work with you. I want to be your partner, so thank you for what you are doing, but even more than that, thank you for what we will all do together. Thank you all very much.