Senator Marco Rubio
Keynote Speech at Hispanic Leadership Conference in Miami
Friday, January 27, 2012
Unas palabras en español brevemente. Muchísimas gracias por esta oportunidad en este momento tan clave en la historia de este país. Un país que tiene que escoger en este momento una dirección económica que en mi opinión tiene que ser muy distinta a la dirección que esta administración nos lleva.
Lo que ha hecho este país grande es la libre empresa. La habilidad de personas de venir de todas partes del mundo, y de seguir sus sueños económicos y familiares. De poder ir hacia delante y dejar sus hijos en mejor posición de donde empezaron ellos.
Eso nos hace único como país, y tengo el miedo que lo vamos a perder, que la dirección que nos lleva este presidente es una dirección que nos va a robar de algo que nos hace especial y distinto al resto del mundo.
Así que estas elecciones van a ser claves y bien importantes, y no hay comunidad en este país que entienda mejor esa realidad económica, que entienda mejor ese sueño americano que la nuestra.
Y es por eso que pienso que la comunidad latina e hispana en este país se debe desempeñar al nivel político de todas maneras posibles. Y les agradezco a todos que han organizado este evento, y que están aquí en el día de hoy, para no solamente escuchar mis palabras, sino las palabras de los candidatos republicanos y de otros invitados y distinguidos que van a estar aquí hoy con nosotros. Muchísimas gracias.
To those that don’t speak Spanish, I apologize. I was basically describing how I saved a bunch of money on my car insurance.
So thank you for choosing Miami. It’s a great place to do political things. It’s a very exciting and vibrant place to do politics.
On my way in today I got a text from a friend who said that someone is flying a plane over the building with a banner that says “Marco, No Somos Rubio,” which means “Marco, We’re Not Blonde.” Which, by coincidence nether am I. So, although if I’m in the Senate for another year I may start being a little bit more grey.
But anyway, thank you for choosing this place and for being a part of this and giving us the opportunity to speak at this key moment in our nation’s history.
I want to begin. Obviously, when people talk about Americans of Hispanic descent the first issue that comes to mind is immigration, and rightfully so. Because for people in our community the issue of immigration is not a theoretical one, it’s not an issue of statistics, it’s not always even an issue of law and order. It’s an issue of their lives, and of the people that they love.
Whether you came here from another country yourself, whether your parents did, or whether you’ve been here generations, there is no one in the community of Hispanic Americans who do not love someone who has found themselves in limbo or in a situation. No one, it’s impossible to walk a block in Miami, in Los Angeles, in others, San Antonio, without running into somebody who is being deeply impacted by a broken legal immigration system.
And so when politicians and political figures speak about the issue of migration, they’re not just talking about a legal issue. They’re speaking about the real lives of real people that so many of us love and care for. And so it is an important issue, not just for our country, but in our community it’s a gateway issue.
(Inaudible Protesters in Crowd)
Nope, please. No, no, no, no, no, please. Let me –
(Inaudible Protesters in Crowd)
Yes, let me, may I say something to you? May I say something to you? Will you listen to me for a second, may I say something.
(Inaudible Protesters in Crowd)
No, no, no, listen. These young people, these young people are very brave to be here today. They raise a very legitimate issue. And if you would allow me to, no, no, please, if they would give me the courtesy of finishing my speech where I’m going to speak about this, then I ask that you let them stay because I think they’ll be interested in what I’m going to say.
I don’t, I don’t want them to leave. I want them to stay. These young, let me tell you guys something, these young men and women raise a very legitimate issue. They came here to a crowd that they know may not be friendly to their point of view on some issues, and they had the bravery and the courage to raise their voices. A: I thank God that I’m in a country where they can do that, but B: I want them to hear what I have to say. Because I think number one, I’m not who they think I am and number two, I don’t stand for what they claim I stand for. And so unfortunately, they weren’t willing to be a part of that or listen to it, so I’ll speak to you. And hopefully those of you with cameras and tape recorders will report it to them and the rest of the world, and the rest of the country.
The immigration issue is critical and it’s important because it’s a gateway issue to the number one issue on the minds of the people in this community, of all walks of life, and that’s economic empowerment.
Let me say, that there is no community in America that understands the American dream of economic empowerment better than ours. And the reason is that the number one issue in our community is the desire to accomplish your dreams and hopes and to leave your children and your grandchildren with opportunities that you yourself never had.
Every single day, people lived, obsessed, in this country with that notion. But no community is more obsessed with it than ours. It’s the reason why people come here. It’s the reason why they work two jobs. It’s the reason why your parents gave up their own hopes and their own dreams so that you could do the things they couldn’t, so you could be what they could not be, so you could go where they could not go, so the doors that were closed to them were open for you.
Which community in our country understands that better than ours, there is none. It typifies our life. It’s who we are, it’s why we’re here. And it’s what’s made our country great.
And I would submit to you that there has never been an economic system that provides the opportunity to do that better than the American free enterprise system. No economic system is perfect. But nowhere in the world have more people from all walks of life been able to empower their children and their grandchildren more than they were able to do here in the twentieth century in the American free enterprise system.
And I also submit to you that today it is under assault. That our country today is run by a President that’s as divisive as any figure in modern American history, who sadly has chosen the route of dividing Americans against each other for the purpose of gaining votes and political support.
His message is one that basically says to people, the way to protect your job is to raise your boss’ taxes. That the way for you to do better off is for someone else to be worse off. That the only way you can climb up the ladder is if we pull some people down.
Now let me tell you, that language is common all over the world. You find it often in the third world. But it’s never been who we are.
As I said in a speech at the end of last year, we have never been a nation of haves and have nots. We have always been a nation of haves and soon to haves, a people who have made it and people who believe that given the chance they will make it too. And if we lose that, we lose the essence of what’s made us great in terms of economics.
And so, when the choices that are put before us today are dangerous ones, because if we choose this path of pitting people against each other, if we buy into this notion that our economy really can’t grow fast enough for all of us to prosper so we’re going to have to somehow empower government to distribute the wealth of this country among us, we’ve chosen to become like everybody else. We’ve chosen to become like the countries that your parents and grandparents came here to get away from. And that’s a powerful message. And that’s the message that we need to deliver. And that’s the message we need to work on delivering. It’s a winning message, but it’s a difficult message to get to because the gateway issue of immigration stands in the minds of so many people who we live next to and love.
Our country has a broken legal immigration system. Its status quo is unsustainable.
We don’t have a functional guest worker program in a nation that knows that it has, especially in things like agriculture, a need for temporary workers who enter on a temporary basis.
Our nation has a complicated and burdensome visa process, where even if you wanted to enter this country legally, and you wanted to stay here legally, it costs so much money, it’s so complicated, so bureaucratic, that it’s difficult to comply with.
And by the way, the things I just outlined to you are things of massive, overwhelming support in our country. There is broad bipartisan support across the board for the idea that America needs a legal immigration system that works.
And that’s why I have challenged the Republican nominees and all Republicans to not just be the anti-illegal immigration party. That’s not who we are, that’s not who we should be. We should be the pro-legal immigration party. A party that has a positive platform and agenda on how we can create a legal immigration system that works for America and works for immigrants.
And I think you could find broad bipartisan support today for the idea that our legal immigration system is broken and needs to be modernized. That we need to take into account the needs and realities of the 21st century and tailor a legal immigration system and a visa program that takes care of that.
I think you could find broad bipartisan support for the notion that our immigration laws need to be enforced, that we need some sort of electronic, low-cost, affordable verification system for employers. That we need increased border security and ways to protect our borders. That we need to invest in these technologies and make this possible.
I think you would find broad bipartisan support for the idea that we need a functional guest worker program. Where, from year to year, when there are indeed jobs, for workers from abroad to come into the United States because we need them for our economy to grow and prosper, so that food doesn’t rot in the farm fields, so that construction gets finished, or whatever the industry that year may be. A functional guest worker program, where people can apply in their home country, receive a tamper-proof identification card, enter the U.S., we know who you are, we know why you’re here, we know where you work, you’re here for a defined period of time and then you go home when it’s done. And by the way, they want that too.
You know why people overstay visas; you know why people overstay temporary, if they can get the temporary worker visas today? Because they’re afraid if they leave they’ll never be able to get back in, because it’s so complicated and burdensome and broken.
You can find broad bipartisan support for all of these ideas. So why haven’t they happened. Well they haven’t happened because the issue of immigration is a powerful one politically. And dividing people along the lines of immigration has proven to be rewarding to politicians on the left and on the right.
And so for those of us who come from the conservative movement, we must admit that there are those among us who have used rhetoric that is harsh and intolerable, inexcusable. And we must admit, myself included, that sometimes we’ve been too slow in condemning that language for what it is.
But, at the same time, on the left, there are those that are using this issue for pure politics. Creating unrealistic and unreasonable expectations among those in the Latino community across this country. Advocating that our country be the only one in the world that has no immigrations laws, and no mechanism for enforcing them. Both sides are guilty of using this issue to divide us. I think that needs to stop.
Now, if you solve the issue of the guest worker program, you solve the issue of the illegal immigration system that you have that needs to be reformed and modernized, you’re left with between nine and eleven million people who are in this country undocumented. They came for different reasons. They found themselves in this predicament in different ways, and it’s a real challenge for our country.
On the one hand there is not political support for the notion of basically granting eleven million people citizenship or a path thereto in the United States. It’s just not there. On the other side, it’s not realistic to expect that you’re going to deport eleven million people. It doesn’t work, we can’t do it, and it would offend American sensibilities and rightfully so. What’s the solution to it? There is no magic solution to it—that’s why it’s so complicated. And that’s why the politics makes it more complicated.
Now these young people that stood up a moment ago, I think one of the reasons why they’re here is because they’re concerned about young people. Let me say: I’m confident in what I have said throughout my political career and especially during my campaign for the Senate, that there is broad support in America for the notion that for those children that were brought here at a very young age, by their parents through no fault of their own, who have grown up here their entire lives, and now want to serve in the military or are high academic achievers and want to go to school and contribute to America’s future, I think there is broad bipartisan support for the notion that we should somehow figure out a way to accommodate them. Figure out a way to accommodate them in a way that does not encourage illegal immigration in the future.
Unfortunately some of the legislative proposals that are out there today go too far and there’s not support for those either. But I think we can solve that problem. And I hope that we, as Republicans and as conservatives take the lead in solving it. Because it’s not just the right thing to do, it speaks to our hopes and dreams as a nation. And it’s critical for our economic future.
How about everybody else? I don’t have a magic answer for you. This is a difficult issue, and sometimes those of us in public service need to stop pretending like difficult issues have easy answers. They don’t. It’ll require an open conversation across this country about what we want to do. How can we create and deal with this issue in a way that both honors our legacy as a nation of immigrants but also honors our legacy as a nation of laws? How do we balance those two things? Well that’s at the core of this issue. And it must be confronted because the status quo is unsustainable.
This issue is a deeply personal one for so many people in this room. I know it is for me. A few months ago—you may have read about it, maybe you didn’t it—I got some dates wrong in my parents’ immigration history. And it created some difficult, you know, uncomfortable days. It was a blessing in disguise. You know what it made me do? It made me do something that we don’t do enough of. And that’s go back and discover who our parents were when they were our age. What were their hopes and dreams? What did they want out of life? Where did they want to go and what did they want to do with themselves? I had a chance to do that. And from the tattered pages of passports and the yellowed papers of olden documents, from across five decades, I clearly heard the voice of people I never really met.
Of my father who came here as a young man and didn’t find instant success. He went to New York—it was too cold. He came to Miami—it was too hard. He went to Los Angeles—it was too California. He went back to Las Vegas the first time. He came back to Miami. He was discouraged. He struggled as a young man who grew up in poverty in Havana after his mom died and then he was struggling here too. He had hopes and dreams for himself. He wanted to own a business and he thought America was the place he could do it and he struggled. And he was discouraged, and he even made plans to go back to Cuba because of that.
I discovered this about my grandfather, who I thought I knew real well, but in fact he grew up in an agriculture family and as a young man he suffered polio. He lost the use of his leg—they sent him to school. He was the only one in his family who knew how to read and write. He got a good job running one of the railroad stations. His family lived comfortably—he had five daughters at the time. It was a heavy undertaking in that climate. And one day, from day to night, he lost his job. And instantly he was tossed, and his family was, into poverty and struggle. He was a disabled man in early twentieth century Cuba trying to find a way to feed his five—almost six—daughters. Struggling with that. My mother tells the story of how he would spend all day looking for work sometimes having to walk miles and come home at night his knees bleeding because he would trip and fall. Because he didn’t have the use of a leg. Tough life.
Why am I different than them? Am I better than them? Why have I had opportunities that they did not have? It was but for the grace of God. That’s true of all of us. I’ve been able to do things they didn’t because I’m here, in the single greatest society and the single greatest nation in all of human history. But it reminded me that their stories, although they’re gone, are still alive. They’re all around us. You find them in Home Depot when I drive up in my pickup truck, in the desperate look of faces of men that are looking for work. You find it in homes across this community and this country, where women work hard, long hours—sometimes without documents—to send money back home.
Of course there are people that abuse the system. But the enormous majority of the people that come here legally and illegally do so because they want a better life for themselves and more importantly for their children. And as we deal with this complicated issue I ask you: What if you were them? What if you lived in a country where your children had no hope and no future? Where your wife stayed up all night crying because she was afraid your son would join a drug gang. Where your children wept each night because you didn’t have enough food to feed them. What if you were there? Let me tell you—if I was there, there are very few things I would not do. There is no fence high enough; there is no ocean wide enough that most of us would not cross to provide for them what they do not have.
And that’s at the core of this issue and these people that we’re dealing with. Yes we have to have laws—they have to be respected. No we cannot legalize eleven million people. But they’re people. They’re human beings with real lives and real stories. And the complexity of the issue challenges the core and soul of our nation perhaps more than any other issue that we face. Because in the end, without immigration, there would be no America. And we would be just like everybody else. And the challenge of this century on this issue is how can we once again make this issue a source of pride, not a source of conflict. Something that unites us as a people, not divides us. Something that we brag about, not something that we fight over. How can we do that? Well that’s what I hope to be a part of. That’s what I hope events like this will be a part of. I hope never again that young people will have to stand up in an event like this and hold up a sign-- because the issue’s been taken care of, in one way or another.
That’s what we need to work towards. And it’s not easy, and it’s difficult, but it must be done. Because you see, throughout ages, even in the world today, most societies teach their people that who you are, is determined by who you come from. Who are your parents? What family were you born into? What neighborhood did you grow up in? What school did you go to, and what social circle do you run in? Because based on that is who you will be.
That’s the way it’s been for much of human history. That’s the way it is today in much of the rest of the world. And then there came America, where we said we didn’t care if your parents were poor, if your grandfather was disabled, or your dad was not connected. You can be anything you wanted - in fact we bragged about it, and we welcomed the world to come here and prove that anyone, from anywhere, can accomplish anything.
Today I took the liberty, it’s the only thing I wrote for today’s speech, well I printed it. I don’t have a (inaudible), I apologize. If you go to New York, there is a famous statue there, you may have heard of it, it’s called the Statue of Liberty. On it, is engraved the poem from Emma Lazarus, it’s called The Colossus, which speaks to our nation, and who we are. I’m not a big poetry fan, but this one, there’s nothing wrong with poetry. Now I’m going to get the poet people upset at me. You got to be careful, every vote counts.
This poem speaks to this battle between those nations who believe that who you are is determined by the circumstances of your birth, and us.
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
And she says:
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, give me your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shores.
Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
This is who we were. For 225 years, this is who we’ve been. And the question now is, is this who we will remain? If we lose this, we lose ourselves. If we walk away from this, we walk away from what makes us different, and special, and unique from all the nations on the earth.
This is a great challenge but it’s one that must be confronted. For in the end, those of us in the conservative movement draw our strength not only from our laws of man, but from the laws of God. We believe that our nation was not just founded on spiritual principles, but that our adherence to them has caused great blessing upon us. We recognize that the Constitution and our laws are important, but we live our lives with the knowledge that there is a higher law yet, a law that commands us to feed the hungry, and clothe the naked, and be kind to the alien in search of home.
Because America has, I believe, God has blessed her. We are not just great because we’re great. We are great because we have been blessed. And with those blessings come responsibilities. Because we’re not just blessed so that we can have, we’re blessed so we can give.
And what we have given the world, on issue after issue, is a light. A light that shines upon the world, and says that all human beings are endowed by God their creator with rights. That the source of those rights are not your king, your president, your laws or your government, but that you’re born with them. And because of that, anything you want to do, you should have a chance to be. Doesn’t matter where you were born, or where you came from, or whether your last name ends in a vowel. That’s who we have been, and if this century is to be an American Century, we have to figure out a way to make sure that that is who we remain.
So thank you for the opportunity to give you this speech. I appreciate it. Thank you.