Thank you Janet.
It's a pleasure to be here tonight, among friends. I want to thank President Murguia and the Board of Directors for the opportunity to be here.
Janet and I have a lot in common these days. We have both recently been promoted.
We've both been given the opportunity to lead distinguished institutions. We are among the lucky few who have the challenge and the privilege of seeking justice for the wronged, giving voice to the voiceless, and securing a future of opportunity and hope for our people and for the nation.
That's not bad work if you can get it.
Just three weeks ago, at my swearing-in ceremony at the Department of Justice, I had many people to thank but little time to thank them. So I wisely limited myself to the people who were up on the stage with me: my mom, my wife, and the President of the United States.
But I also have this organization to thank for its support of my nomination as Attorney General. Over the years, La Raza and the Bush Administration have not always agreed on every issue. But we have stood together firmly in our commitment to widening and deepening opportunities for Hispanic-Americans. I am humbled and grateful to stand on the shoulders of groups like La Raza. And the future I see from this vantage point is filled with even higher vistas of accomplishment and opportunity. I see a future that fulfills the dreams of a great people and the promise of a great nation.
Tonight the National Council of La Raza honors those who are building this future. Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Chris Cannon are statesmen in the purist sense of the word. They don't share our heritage, but they share our values.
Together with the Llano Grande Center, which is also honored tonight, Senator Dodd and Congressman Cannon have worked tirelessly to give Hispanic-Americans what they want most: an opportunity to succeed.
When I talk to people around the country I sometimes tell them that within the Hispanic community there is a common prayer. "Just give me a chance to prove myself." This is the shared dream of everyone who believes in the promise of America. And fulfilling this dream is the shared responsibility of everyone who has benefited from the opportunity and prosperity of this nation.
Since being nominated by President Bush to be Attorney General, I have thought a great deal about what it means to seek justice in America.
Wherever we pursue justice - from fighting the war on terrorism to combating violent crime and enforcing civil rights - our mission is clear: to extend opportunity by expanding freedom and protecting equal justice for all. When we work to defend the nation, to reduce violent crime, to defend the rights of victims of crime, and to improve the administration of our immigration laws, we work to give every American a fair chance to achieve the American dream.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have lived the American dream. Many of you have lived the American dream. Our thoughts and our prayers tonight must be with those who have not.
This, I believe, is the responsibility of the Department of Justice - to defend the promise of America from its enemies, both foreign and domestic. The essence of this promise - what makes this Nation unique in all the world - is that it extends to all of us. It's not just my hopes or your hopes that are reflected in the words of the Declaration of Independence. It's not merely my rights and your rights that are protected by the text of the Constitution and secured by our laws. The hopes and the dreams of all of us rest in these documents. To me, that is what the Department of Justice stands for, and that is what I will keep in mind every day as I work for our Nation.
In 2003 it was announced with great fanfare that Hispanics had become the largest minority group in America. Some of my Hispanic friends found comfort in this news, but I saw an even greater challenge. If we allow drugs, gangs and crime to ravage our communities, if we unfairly deny the protection of our Nation to law abiding aliens who seek asylum, if we fail to prepare our children for competition in the global economy, we will not realize the leadership potential of our community. Worse, we will have denied the promise of America to a new generation of Hispanic-Americans.
This is the challenge I share with you tonight. This is the dream I know we can achieve. Thank you for having me here tonight. My congratulations to the honorees. May God bless you and your families, may He continue to guide your decisions, and may He continue to bless the United States of America.