The president's remarks as prepared:
Hello, El Paso! It’s great to be back here with all of you, and to be back in the Lone Star State. I love coming to Texas. Even the welcomes are bigger down here. So, to show my appreciation, I wanted to give a big policy speech… outdoors… right in the middle of a hot, sunny day.
I hope everyone is wearing sunscreen.
Now, about a week ago, I delivered the commencement address at Miami Dade Community College, one of the most diverse schools in the nation. The graduates were proud that their class could claim heritage from 181 countries around the world. Many of the students were immigrants themselves, coming to America with little more than the dreams of their parents and the clothes on their backs. A handful had discovered only in adolescence or adulthood that they were undocumented. But they worked hard and gave it their all, and they earned those diplomas.
At the ceremony, 181 flags – one for every nation represented – was marched across the stage. Each was applauded by the graduates and relatives with ties to those countries. But then, the last flag – the American flag – came into view. And the room erupted. Every person in the auditorium cheered. Yes, their parents or grandparents – or the graduates themselves – had come from every corner of the globe. But it was here that they had found opportunity, and had a chance to contribute to the nation that is their home.
It was a reminder of a simple idea, as old as America itself. E pluribus, unum. Out of many, one. We define ourselves as a nation of immigrants – a nation that welcomes those willing to embrace America’s precepts. That’s why millions of people, ancestors to most of us, braved hardship and great risk to come here – so they could be free to work and worship and live their lives in peace. The Asian immigrants who made their way to California’s Angel Island. The Germans and Scandinavians who settled across the Midwest. The waves of the Irish, Italian, Polish, Russian, and Jewish immigrants who leaned against the railing to catch that first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.
This flow of immigrants has helped make this country stronger and more prosperous. We can point to the genius of Einstein and the designs of I. M. Pei, the stories of Isaac Asimov and whole industries forged by Andrew Carnegie.
And I think of the naturalization ceremonies we’ve held at the White House for members of the military, which have been so inspiring. Even though they were not yet citizens, these men and women had signed up to serve. One was a young man named Granger Michael from Papua New Guinea, a Marine who deployed to Iraq three times. Here’s what he said about becoming an American citizen. “I might as well. I love this country already.” Marines aren’t big on speeches. Another was a woman named Perla Ramos. She was born and raised in Mexico, came to the United States shortly after 9/11, and joined the Navy. She said, “I take pride in our flag … and the history we write day by day.”
That’s the promise of this country – that anyone can write the next chapter of our story. It doesn’t matter where you come from; what matters is that you believe in the ideals on which we were founded; that you believe all of us are equal and deserve the freedom to pursue happiness. In embracing America, you can become American. And that enriches all of us.
Yet at the same time, we are standing at the border today because we also recognize that being a nation of laws goes hand in hand with being a nation of immigrants. This, too, is our heritage. This, too, is important. And the truth is, we’ve often wrestled with the politics of who is and who isn’t allowed to enter this country. At times, there has been fear and resentment directed toward newcomers, particularly in periods of economic hardship. And because these issues touch on deeply held convictions – about who we are as a people, about what it means to be an American – these debates often elicit strong emotions.
That’s one reason it’s been so difficult to reform our broken immigration system. When an issue is this complex and raises such strong feelings, it’s easier for politicians to defer the problem until after the next election. And there’s always a next election. So we’ve seen a lot blame and politics and ugly rhetoric. We’ve seen good faith efforts – from leaders of both parties – fall prey to the usual Washington games. And all the while, we’ve seen the mounting consequences of decades of inaction.
Today, there are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Some crossed the border illegally. Others avoid immigration laws by overstaying their visas. Regardless of how they came, the overwhelming majority of these folks are just trying to earn a living and provide for their families. But they’ve broken the rules, and have cut in front of the line. And the truth is, the presence of so many illegal immigrants makes a mockery of all those who are trying to immigrate legally.