Remarks as Delivered
“Thank you, thank you. Good evening to all of you, and buenas noches a todos.
“We’re lucky to have Manny Diaz as a board member of Bloomberg Philanthropies, and I want to thank him for that incredibly kind and generous introduction.
“It’s an honor to join you all tonight. Americans for Immigrant Justice does some incredibly vital work as we all know, and I want to say a special thanks to Cheryl Little for inviting me. You are the greatest.
“I also want to congratulate two very deserving honorees: Father Frank – Father, well done – and Indira Islas. You are the greatest, and you are the future of this country, and somehow or other we’re going to make it all right, just keep the fight up.
“Their stories are so inspiring, and they really go to the heart of what’s at stake when we talk about immigration, and the future of immigration in America. Let me tell you what I mean when I say that.
“I believe immigration is the American story. It really is. The entire basis for our country’s success is that people come here to build better, freer lives for themselves and their families. That is our story.
“We all have different roots. Manny Diaz and his mother came from Cuba. My grandparents came from Belarus and Lithuania. Maybe you or your ancestors came from Ireland or Germany, or Mexico or Colombia, or anyplace else.
“But all immigrants have come here seeking exactly the same things: freedom, and equality, and the opportunity to work to give their children the chances that they never had.
“America’s spirit of openness and opportunity has made us the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world. It is impossible to imagine American life, or the American economy, without immigrants.
“Think about this, more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants or their children. Forty percent.
“Now, some people claim that immigrants take jobs away from Americans. But the data really does prove them wrong.
“Just take one of the companies headquartered here, Carnival Cruise Line. It’s one of the largest employers in the region, and it was founded by two immigrants – one born in Israel, and one born in Turkey.
“Of course, it’s not just big businesses that are started by immigrants. All over America, immigrants create small businesses that help form the backbone of our communities and those businesses employ millions of Americans and provide goods and services that Americans depend on every single day.
“So, we all have different histories. Different backgrounds. Different journeys. But they all combine to form the same exceptional story: the American story.
“And there’s a reason that the American Story is so enduring. Because at the heart of it lies an idea that gives our story its greatest power and its greatest promise. We call this the American Dream and that’s why we’re all here tonight.
“We all believe in the American Dream. I’ve been lucky enough to live it. My father never earned more than $6,000 a year in his life. But a good education opened doors for me that I never thought were possible.
“Those doors of opportunity are what the American Dream is all about. I’m not talking about getting rich. I’m not talking about getting famous. It’s about getting the chance to fulfill your potential, and to accomplish something, for yourself, for your family, for your community, and for your country.
“But at this very moment, the American Story, and the American Dream that shapes it, are both under attack.
“They are under attack not merely by foreign enemies that we encounter generation after generation, the ones that cling to ideologies that are founded in repression, and intolerance, and dictatorship.
“No. Today, the American Story and the American Dream are under attack by our own
“From the day he announced his campaign, Donald Trump has never stopped trying to scapegoat immigrants. It is Mexicans and Central Americans today, but it could just as easily be Cubans or Lithuanians tomorrow. Manny’s family. My family. Your family.
“Now, there have always been politicians who seek power by preying on the fears of others, and resentment toward them.
“For much of our history, the targets were Catholics and Jews, Irish and Italian, Chinese and Japanese, and of course, African-Americans and Hispanics.
“We always emerged stronger, and I believe we will this time as well. But there is something different about this time.
“Through most of the 19th and 20th centuries, the people making xenophobic appeals were typically members of secret societies, or sometimes, members of Congress.
“But this time, the person making them is the President of the United States, and I believe it shows he just does not understand the job and what it means to lead our country.
“Now, hard as it is to believe, the most xenophobic president of our lifetime is from the immigrant capital of the United States: New York City. In fact, he’s from Queens, one of the most diverse places on the face of the Earth.
“When my administration created a 311 Government Service Hotline, we made sure that our operators covered 170 different languages. So you would think that someone from Queens would understand the power and the value of immigration. Sadly, he does not seem to.
“It’s hard not to conclude that the value of diversity in our country is lost on the President. His speeches and his tweets seem to be about playing politics rather than solving problems.
“And for him, that means offering cheap political gimmicks – like the wall – instead of real solutions, like comprehensive immigration reform.
“Now, on Tuesday, the President said he is in favor of more legal immigrants. That would be a welcome change.
“But he has spent the past two years trying to reduce the number of legal immigrants. So talk is cheap, especially when it comes from someone who has a long history of making empty promises.
“The one thing we know for sure is that the President’s decision to shut down the government over a wall we don’t need was a total failure of presidential leadership. And it was also an example of just incompetent executive management.
“Unfortunately, it’s not clear he’s learned his lesson, and so it may be up to Congress to strike a deal without him.
“Keep in mind, for all his talk about declaring a national emergency at our southern border he’s already declared a national emergency on a different American challenge that he’s done almost nothing to solve.
“More than a year ago, he signed a document declaring the opioid crisis to be a national public health emergency.
“He’s right: it is an emergency. And my foundation is working on attacking it. But instead of offering us real solutions, this administration just pretends that a wall can stop the flow of people and drugs into our country.
“Never mind that most addictive drugs arrive in America through legal ports of entry and some are even sent directly by mail. A massive wall won’t stop drugs or people from arriving here illegally and pretending otherwise is not going to get us anywhere.
“Now, we do face real challenges on our border with Mexico, some of them created by this administration’s outrageous policy of separating children from their parents.
“It would be hard to imagine a more un-American policy than that and we should never stand for it.
“Unfortunately, children at the border are not the only young people affected by the president’s xenophobia. Foreign student enrollment in the United States declined again last year, because many young people fear they won’t be welcome here.
“Those students are choosing places like Montreal over Miami and we are losing out on the talent we need for the future.
“Now, words matter. And the president’s words and policies are hurting our ability to out-compete the rest of the world for talent and we are going to pay a long-term cost for that unless we change it very soon.
“Of course, it’s not just that young people aren’t coming here. There are more than three million Dreamers who are already here and they want nothing more than to pursue the American Dream.
“Some of these Dreamers are here with us tonight. They were brought here as children. They broke no law.
“To argue that a child carried here in his or her parents’ arms broke the law defies logic, and reason, and any comprehensible interpretation of what the Founding Fathers would have thought anyone’s definition of lawbreaking was.
“Not to mention, it lacks any sense of decency and compassion.
“And yet the President is trying to block those children from staying here. He continues to fight the Obama-era program that granted work permits to those who arrived here as children. He refused to support Democratic legislation that would legalize their status. And he has refused to deal with an immigration system that is broken through and through.
“Now, I’ve never been a partisan person. I don’t believe either party has a monopoly on good ideas or good people.
“My good friend John McCain, who was a true American hero, was a leader on immigration reform. I went to Annapolis to address a class about three months ago and I went to see John McCain’s grave, and the number of people that put a stone on his tombstone is quite amazing.
“I’d like to think that this Congress and this President can reach a comprehensive deal. But that certainly doesn’t seem likely based on the present rhetoric.
“Long term, I believe we need to elect a president in 2020 who can bring the two parties together around real solutions so that we can fix this and other broken systems once and for all.
“I’m optimistic it can be done because, first and foremost, Americans want it. The public is far more united on these issues than the voices at the extremes want us to believe. That’s the good news.
“The vast majority of us agree that we should control our borders and welcome hard-working people from around the world who want to come here to work and pursue the American Dream, and provide a path to citizenship for all who are here.
“I’ll just close with one further thought. One of the reasons I ran for mayor was to help fix what was, at the time, a failing public school system. I’d visit different classrooms across the city. I’d see all those bright, eager students. Many of them were either immigrants or the children of immigrants. I’d meet them, and I just knew that one of those kids, or eventually some of their children or grandchildren, would grow up to win a Nobel Prize, to cure a deadly disease, or start a business that would employ thousands of people, or lead our city, or our country.
“I knew that because that is the American story. I doubt my grandparents could ever have imagined that their grandson would become mayor of New York City. I know my teachers never would’ve believed it. But it happened, and it only could’ve happened in America.
“All of us are made greater by immigration. All of us are ennobled by the American Story. And I want to thank A.I. Justice and all of you for upholding the American Dream.
“The struggle to live up to our nation’s highest ideals is a fundamental part of our story too, and you’re leading that struggle. So thank you for your leadership, and thank you for having me here tonight.
“Don’t ever forget it, when people vote with their feet, they come to America.
“God bless America, God bless our American story, and together let’s write a new chapter that keeps the American Dream alive for generations to come.