NCLR 2014 Capital Awards Speech: President’s Message

Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR

NLCR Capital Awards, March 4, 2014 • Washington, DC

Each year at this event we honor bipartisanship. This is not by accident.

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As a community — and as an organization — bipartisanship is a vital part of who we are.  Latinos offer a broad variety of experiences, cultural histories, and political views that long to be represented in American politics.

We don’t adhere to one party, one ideology, or one point of view.  We, of all people, understand and value diversity.

But, among those who govern, bipartisanship is a responsibility. It is the hallmark of democracy.

People with different points of view come together to defend their principles and present their opinions, but ultimately sit down to negotiate, so that the people’s business is done. It’s called governing.

Three months ago, Paul Ryan and Patty Murray sat down to negotiate a budget, and while neither side got everything they wanted, they stunned the nation’s capital by coming to an agreement. And last month, Congress passed and the president signed an extension of the debt ceiling.

These developments felt like a breath of fresh air, even though they were just doing the jobs they were elected to do. They demonstrated that bipartisanship is possible. Governing is possible.

It’s what the country wants.  It’s what our community wants.  It is what our nation needs.

After the last two elections, leaders from both parties signaled that resolving the immigration debate was possible.

And tonight we honored the sponsors of a true bipartisan agreement — the Gang of Eight — who raised hopes for comprehensive immigration reform by crafting and passing a landmark Senate bill.

Yet our hopes, once again, have been dashed by political gridlock.

One week after saying he was ready to move forward with immigration reform, Speaker Boehner pulled the plug on legislation in the House.  He said, and I quote, “There’s widespread doubt about whether this Administration can be trusted to enforce our laws.

And it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

Seriously? Failing to enforce our laws?

For us, this president has been the deporter-in-chief.

Any day now, this Administration will reach the two million mark for deportations.  It is a staggering number that far outstrips any of his predecessors and leaves behind it a wake of devastation for families across America.

Many groups, including NCLR, have long been calling on the president to mitigate the damage of these record deportations.

But again we hear no.

The president says his administration does not have the authority to act on its own.

All we hear is no. No from Congress. No from the Administration.

But here’s the thing:  we won’t take no for an answer, because we can’t — not while over 400,000 people a year are being deported by this administration. Not while millions continue to live in the shadows, struggling in fear, every single day of their lives, outside the scope and protection of the law.

Nearly half of those being deported are simply hardworking people who have put down roots in their communities and have employers who count on them. Most have been here more than a decade.

One out of every four deportees is the parent of a child who is a U.S. citizen. Hundreds of thousands of these children, our children, are being deprived of their mother or father— and very often the family’s only breadwinner. It will take generations to heal the harm caused by inaction.

So, yes. We respectfully disagree with the president on his ability to stop unnecessary deportations.

He can stop tearing families apart. He can stop throwing communities and businesses into chaos. He can stop turning a blind eye to the harm being done. He does have the power to stop this. Failure to act will be a shameful legacy for his presidency.

But we cannot rely on administrative relief alone.  It’s important and it’s needed, but it is also limited and temporary.  We do a grave disservice to our community and to ourselves if we focus on only one front in this battle.

Only Congress can deliver a broad, inclusive, and lasting solution. So, to the House of Representatives, we say take up reform now, or suffer the political consequences.

There is no excuse not to.

Reform will add more than a trillion dollars of economic growth, and billions more in wage increases and tax revenues.

You have had more than enough time to come up with legislation to move reform forward. It is time to stop the political gamesmanship. This is not the “House of Cards.”

It is about ending the pain and suffering of millions of real people. It is about ending a patchwork of laws where even native-born U.S. citizens are at risk of arrest and detention. It is about ending a broken immigration system that ill-serves every sector of our society.

Sticking your head in the sand won’t make this issue go away. It won’t go away because we won’t go away.

For us, this issue is a matter of conscience. This is not a time to step aside. It is a time to step up. We are not bystanders in this process.  We wouldn’t even be having this debate if it weren’t for the power of the Latino vote.

The path to immigration reform was not preordained; we created it.

But our work is not yet complete.

We will finish it by strengthening and by exercising our voice. Be it in the halls of Congress, in public forums, and most especially at the ballot box.

We will empower the millions who are eligible, to become citizens. We will empower the millions who are citizens, to register. We will empower the millions who are registered, to get out and vote. And on Election Day, we will make our choice.

And our message to policymakers and everyone else will be very clear:  it is our community who will determine when the immigration debate is over. We will determine when the issue is resolved. And we won’t stop until it’s done.

Bipartisanship is possible. Governing is possible.

It’s what we all want.  It’s what we all deserve.  It’s the basis of our democracy and it is a responsibility we all share.

It’s long past time we got on with it.

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