And we should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents – by denying them the chance to earn an education or serve in the military. That’s why we need to pass the Dream Act. Now, we passed the Dream Act through the House last year. But even though it received a majority of votes in the Senate, it was blocked when several Republicans who had previously supported the Dream Act voted no.
It was a tremendous disappointment to get so close and then see politics get in the way. And as I gave the commencement at Miami Dade, it broke my heart knowing that a number of those promising, bright students – young people who worked so hard and who speak to what’s best about America – are at risk of facing the agony of deportation. These are kids who grew up in this country, love this country, and know no other place as home. The idea that we would punish them is cruel and it makes no sense. We are a better nation than that.
So we’re going to keep up the fight for the Dream Act. We’re going to keep up the fight for reform. And that’s where you come in. I will do my part to lead a constructive and civil debate on these issues. We’ve already held a series of meetings about this at the White House in recent weeks. And we’ve got leaders here and around the country helping to move the debate forward. But this change has to be driven by you – to help us push for comprehensive reform, and to identify what steps we can take right now – like the Dream Act and visa reform – areas where we can find common ground among Democrats and Republicans to begin fixing what’s broken.
I am asking you to add your voices to this debate – and you can sign up to help at whitehouse.gov. We need Washington to know that there is a movement for reform gathering strength from coast to coast. That’s how we’ll get this done. That’s how we can ensure that in the years ahead we are welcoming the talents of all who can contribute to this country; and that we are living up to that basic American idea: you can make it if you try.
That idea is what gave hope to José Hernández, who is here today. José’s parents were migrant farm workers. And so, growing up, he was too. He was born in California, though he could have just as easily been born on the other side of the border, had it been a different time of year, because his family moved with the seasons. Two of his siblings were actually born in Mexico.
They traveled a lot and José joined his parents picking cucumbers and strawberries. He missed part of the school year when they returned to Mexico each winter. He didn’t learn English until he was 12. But José was good at math, and he liked it. The great thing about math was that it’s the same in every school, and it’s the same in Spanish.
So he studied hard. And one day, standing in the fields, collecting sugar beets, he heard on a transistor radio that a man named Franklin Chang-Diaz – a man with a name like his – was going to be an astronaut for NASA.
José decided that he could be an astronaut, too.
So he kept studying, and graduated high school. He kept studying, earning an engineering degree and a graduate degree. He kept working hard, ending up at a national laboratory, helping to develop a new kind of digital medical imaging system.
And a few years later, he found himself more than 100 miles above the surface of the earth, staring out the window of the Shuttle Discovery, remembering the boy in the California fields with a crazy dream and an unshakable belief that everything was possible in America.
That is what we are fighting for. We are fighting for every boy and girl like José with a dream and potential just waiting to be tapped. We are fighting to unlock that promise, and all that it holds not just for their futures, but for the future of this great country.
Thank you. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.