Let me begin by thanking Lawrence Benito, the Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, for that kind introduction.
In the brief time that I have I want to focus on three issues: I want to talk about the stain of racism in this country, I want to talk about the need for real immigration reform and I want to talk about what executive actions I will take as President to make sure that we have an immigration policy that is fair and just.
As you all know, throughout history, for whatever reason racism has been a stain on human existence. As many of you may know, I lost many members of my family in Europe to Hitler and we know that all over this world including the United States, including North America, racism has existed and has done terrible, terrible things.
Racism has plagued the United States since its inception. The atrocities committed against the native people are unspeakable as is the abomination of slavery perpetrated against people of African descent. Millions of people died as a result of that racism and that exploitation of one group of people thinking they are superior to another group of people because of differences of color or of language or of customs. But racism in our country has not only impacted Native Americans and African Americans, as you all know, it has impacted people who’ve come from countries from all over the world. Racism has plagued this country for centuries. We should be proud however, that in recent decades we have made significant progress, real progress in overcoming racism and in defeating it, in creating a country where we judge people, as Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us, not on the color of their skin, not on the language they speak, not on the country where they came from, but on their character and qualities as human beings. We are making progress in this country and there will be no turning back and let me be very clear in stating that no one, not Donald Trump, not anyone else will be successful in dividing us based on race or our country of origin. Yes we can have an honest disagreement about immigration reform, but no we cannot and will not call an entire group of people “rapists” and “criminals.” That type of racism, that type of demagoguery must end.
America becomes a greater nation, a stronger nation when we stand together as one people and in a very loud and clear voice we say no to all forms of racism and bigotry.
I know something about immigration because my Dad came to this country from Poland at the age of 17 without a nickel in his pocket, without much of an education and without knowing the English language. Like immigrants before and since, he worked hard to give his family a better life here in the United States. He never made much money. We lived in a three and a half room rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, New York, but he worked hard, my mom worked hard, and they were able to create a situation where their two kids went to college.
Their story, my story, your story, our story is the story of America, hardworking families coming to the United States to create a brighter future for their kids. It is a story rooted in family and fueled by hope. It is a story that continues to this day in families all across the United States. My remarks this afternoon will focus on issues of specific relevance for the Latino community but also issues that are important to all Americans. But when we talk about the Latino community, and in fact when we talk about America, one critical piece that must be talked about is the need to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
Today, we have 11 million people in this country who are undocumented, 99% of whom came to this country to improve their lives, to escape oppression, to flee desperate poverty and violence. Let us be frank, today’s undocumented workers play an extraordinarily important role in our economy. Without these workers it is likely that much of our agricultural system would collapse. Undocumented workers are doing the extremely difficult work of harvesting our crops, building our homes, cooking our meals and caring for our children. They are part of the fabric of America.
Eleven million people came to this country, who are today undocumented so that they could feed their families, escape gang violence and desperate economic circumstances. Let me also be very clear, that people came to this country because they knew that there were jobs here and if anyone thinks that employers throughout this country did not know that the workers that they were hiring were undocumented, they know nothing about what has gone on in this country for 50 years.
So where do we go from here? Well, I supported the 2013 Comprehensive Immigration Reform Legislation in the U.S. Senate. While a complicated piece of comprehensive legislation like this can always be improved and should be improved, I believe there should be a responsible path to citizenship so individuals can come out of the shadows, people can walk the streets with safety, people can hold their heads high, so that people can have the protection of the law and participate fully and openly in American society.
The Senate bill attempted to accomplish this important goal and the time is long overdue for the U.S. House of Representatives to take up immigration reform. The Senate bill contained the provisions of the DREAM Act that I strongly support. It is my belief that we should recognize the young men and women who comprise the DREAMers for what they are, American kids who deserve the right to be in the country they know as home.
This is not to say that I do not have significant criticisms of this long and complicated bill. I believe the pathway to citizenship was unnecessarily linked to border security triggers, measures that many believe were put in place so that the path to citizenship would be delayed or even denied for the millions of undocumented individuals here and I want to change those provisions.
I also believe that the penalties and fines in the bill would be a bar for the poor, essentially preventing them from accessing the path to legal residency and eventual citizenship. To be meaningful, a pathway to citizenship needs to be achievable for the millions of workers at the lower end of the economic ladders. These and other barriers in the bill, including the years, often more than a decade, that it would take to achieve citizenship make it a flawed piece of legislation and needs to be improved.
As President, passing a legislative solution to our broken immigration system will be a top priority. But, let me be clear: I will not wait around for Congress to act. Instead, beginning in the first 100 days of my Administration, I will work to take extensive executive action to accomplish what Congress has failed to do and to build upon President Obama’s executive orders.
While the Senate passed the DREAM act in its immigration bill and while the House has not acted, I think President Obama did exactly the right thing through his executive order for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) were good first steps, but much more needs to be done.
Let me tell you what I would do as President:
First, I will expand upon President Obama’s executive actions to provide broad Administrative relief to the parents of DREAMers, the parents of citizens, the parents of legal permanent residents, other family members and the rest of the immigrant population who would have been legalized if the House of Representatives had only taken a vote on immigration reform.
The growth of the immigrant detention and deportation machine and the expansion of militarization on the border has perpetuated unjust policies and resulted in the separation of hundreds of thousands of immigrant families.
As President, I will work to unite families, not tear them apart.
Second, I will direct immigration officers to immediately stop initiating deportations against those eligible for relief. This would include: dismantling inhumane deportation programs and private detention centers, enhancing access to justice, and reversing the criminalization of immigration.
In my view, we should not deny a path to citizenship to an undocumented parent for re-entering the country after being separated from their children or for not having a drivers’ license.
Third, I will direct my Administration to extend humane treatment and asylum to victims of domestic violence and unaccompanied minors coming from Latin America as a distinct group of people fleeing persecution. America has always been a haven for the oppressed. We cannot and must not shirk the historic role of the United States as a protector of vulnerable people fleeing persecution.
And, fourth, let’s be clear: the current immigration system discriminates against women, and has got to stop. Women are often the breadwinners of families, but our current immigration policies, in too many cases, treats them as mere dependents. Wives who come into this country with their families should have the same right to work as their husbands.
These are just key elements of a broader set of immigration policies that I will be releasing in the coming days as we seek to aggressively address our broken immigration system.
The bottom line is that we cannot and we should not sweep up millions of men, women, and children – many of whom have been here for years – and throw them out of the country. We need a path to citizenship to bring 11 million people out of the shadows.
And, that must happen sooner, rather than later.
Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to discuss my views. I look forward to taking your questions.