Good afternoon. Like our President, I am a baseball fan. For many Houstonians, this year marked the end of 44 years of hope and agony over the Houston Astros reaching the World Series.
I spent a lot of time last week watching the Astros play the White Sox. I even got the chance to be in Houston for Game 3. You might remember that was the game that lasted fourteen innings, until nearly 1:30 in the morning.
It was special to be at the first World Series game played in the State of Texas. But I was disappointed that I couldn’t stay for Game 4 the following night, when they introduced the Latino Legends Team on the field before the game. In retrospect, I am glad that I didn’t have to watch the White Sox celebrate on my team’s field, but it would have been an incredible thing to see heroes such as Juan Marichal, Rod Carew, and Fernando Valenzuela line up with today’s Latino stars such as Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, and Pedro Martinez.
I suspect that, sometime during the ceremony, each of those players thought about the one person who couldn’t attend the ceremony: Roberto Clemente, the great Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder who died in a plane crash delivering supplies to needy victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua. Clemente embodied the term “legend” and paved the way for names like Rivera, Ramirez, and Rodriguez to play the game. Clemente’s son represented him among the outfielders, and commented that, quote, “This is a great day for Latinos in baseball.”
When I look at this group here today, I am proud to say: “This is a great day for Latinos everywhere.”
More and more, young Latinos across the country have role models that they can turn to for inspiration - not just on the baseball diamond, but in virtually every field of human endeavor. It’s important that we strive for professional excellence in the sciences, in the media, in law, in business, and as community activists. Already in the short history of the Latino Leaders Luncheon, you’ve heard from an all-star cast, and I am privileged to be in their company.
I am Hispanic. I am Latino. I love my family; I believe in God; and I am grateful for my country, the United States of America, which has allowed me to live the American dream.
I served in our armed forces because I believe the freedoms and opportunities available in America are worth defending and, ultimately, worth dying for. I am proud of our beautiful culture: the language, the foods, the traditions. We are alike in these ways and alike, I suspect, in pursuing prosperity and opportunity for all Hispanics. We all want to see our kids get an education; we want everyone to be able to own their home or a business. We all want an equal opportunity to pursue a dream.
We will differ, of course, in how best to achieve these broad objectives, much like we may have a different history, or a different heritage due to geography and much like we have different tastes in food. Our dialects, our religion, and even our politics may be different, but in the end there is more that binds us. We can all agree, for example, that too many of our children are getting into trouble and dropping out of school. We can all agree that the future leadership of our community is at risk.
The key, it seems to me, is to focus our energy, to direct our priorities, and to engage in a meaningful debate with clarity of purpose, but a discussion that is respectful and tolerant of dissenting views. We may be from different ends of the political spectrum, but we enjoy a cultural tie that cannot be broken.
I am often asked by people what it is like to be the first Hispanic Attorney General.
I tell them that I am the son of a poor cotton picker and construction worker, that my parents never finished grade school, and I am the Attorney General of the United States. I tell them that I know what it is like to face a life with few opportunities, with nothing more than a heart full of hope, a mind full of dreams, and a willingness to work hard. I tell them that I am the Attorney General for all Americans, but I know that some take great pride in the fact that the son of Mexican-American migrant workers serves as the Attorney General.
President Bush also takes great pride in that fact. And I am not the only Hispanic leader in this Administration. When President Bush looks around the table at a Cabinet meeting, he also sees Carlos Gutierrez. When he surveys the Federal agencies, he sees names like Richard Carmona, Gaddy Vasquez, Hector Barreto and Anna Escobedo Cabral. The President has surrounded himself with public servants who are qualified and who represent the important diversity of the American people.
He’s also applied these principles in making nominations for federal judicial appointments - a task I worked on personally with him as White House Counsel. I know the President well. Diversity at all levels of government is as important to him as it is to you. It was a great privilege to help the President select a diverse group of qualified nominees who share his judicial philosophy.
Judge Sam Alito understands that there is no Hispanic Constitution, African American Constitution, or white Constitution - there is just one Constitution for all Americans.
Judge Alito has been on the bench for fifteen years - and argued in front of the Supreme Court twelve times - and he is well known for his fairness, his character, and his commitment to the rule of law. During his thirty years of public service - much of which was spent at the Department of Justice - Judge Alito has earned a reputation for excellence that few can equal.
One of the great things about this process, though, is that you don’t have to take my word - listen to his words as he responds to questions in his confirmation hearings. The Senate - and the American public - will learn more about Judge Alito’s qualifications and his approach to judging. I ask that you - and others - reserve judgment and give him an opportunity to show why he would be good for the Court and for the country.
Judge Alito, like many of you, is the product of the immigrant dream and will bring his unique experiences and background to the Supreme Court, just as I have brought mine to my time as Attorney General. I’ve noticed over the course of my first months as Attorney General, that my family’s personal story has given me a unique appreciation for the challenges faced by many Americans.
This past weekend, I spoke to a group of Latino law enforcement officers. I told them a story about a veteran Deputy from the Los Angeles Police Department’s anti-gang unit. Deputy Ortiz went to work early on Friday, June 23rd, as he often did, in order to get a jump on a street-gang investigation. The 35-year-old deputy had been with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for 15 years, was a five-year veteran of his department’s anti-gang task force, and had just returned from his honeymoon.
Deputy Ortiz was going door-to-door conducting interviews in a gang-plagued neighborhood. At 3 p.m., he knocked on the door of a house and was checking IDs when someone shot him in the head from point-blank range.
As L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca described it, “this was an assassination of a deputy. It was a sudden attack that gave the deputy no chance.”
The alleged gunman is Jose Luiz Orozco-a suspected gang member. When Sheriff Baca spoke to the press about the murder, he printed out Orozco’s rap sheet: It was five-feet long.
The investigation Deputy Ortiz was conducting on the day he died was part of a broader effort to reclaim the small community of Hawaiian Gardens from gang intimidation, drug sales, and violence.
Deputy Ortiz sacrificed his life to do his duty. And it struck me, in recounting this story, that everyone involved was Hispanic. A brave Hispanic Deputy. A positive Hispanic leader in Sheriff Baca. And, unfortunately, a young Hispanic already lost to the dangerous life of guns, drugs, and gangs.
It’s a telling example - both of the progress we’ve made and the long distance we have yet to travel.
Gangs are a growing problem for the Hispanic community. Gangs wipe out the dreams of our children and cost us future leaders. I have directed my U.S. Attorneys to work with partners at the federal, State, and local levels-to stop the spread of gangs and curb the rampant violence from gang activity.
As the chief law enforcement officer of the country, my official role in responding to gangs and troubled youth is leading investigations and promoting prosecutions. But as a father that is not where I want to be. We need to get to these kids before they join gangs, before they drop out of school, before they get into trouble. Education and prevention are as important as enforcement - and the Department works to share necessary resources and training so that the hopes of our kids are not extinguished.
That American dream is the reason so many immigrants - millions every year - come to this country in search of a better life for their families.
Recently, the President reiterated his vision for a comprehensive immigration reform program. The President outlined a number of steps to strengthen security along our borders and to provide legal options for people who want to stay in the United States to work temporarily.
I am a product - like virtually all of you - of the immigrant dream, so I understand how important it can be for people looking to provide for their families. The President understands that too. He knows, “Family values do not stop at the Rio Grande River.”
But the President and I both are from Texas, and we know that the security of our citizens depends, in part, on our ability to control the border. With a temporary worker program, fewer people will try to sneak in illegally to work…and that means our enforcement efforts can focus on catching drug smugglers, terrorists, and gunrunners.
Today, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is announcing a new Secure Borders Initiative. In fact, he’s making the announcement right now in my hometown of Houston.
The Secure Borders Initiative is going to increase our ability to gain what Secretary Chertoff calls “operational control” on our borders. This new program - which provides additional resources and technologies at our borders - will make our country safer from the threat of terrorism.
The Secure Border Initiative will also work hand in hand with a temporary worker program - again, with the goal of curbing illegal criminal activity and clearing a path for legal work in the United States.
As leaders, we need your reasoned voice in the debate about immigration. On this issue - and many more - we need your leadership. As we work to ensure the hope and opportunity of America for every citizen, I appreciate your ongoing efforts to nurture the Hispanic community - especially as role models for young Hispanics.
May God bless you and your families, may He guide you in the challenges yet to come, and may He continue to bless the United States of America.