Good evening ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for including me in tonightís twentieth anniversary celebration of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility. I am happy to be here to express my gratitude for everything this association, its member organizations, and tonightís sponsors are doing to help ensure greater opportunity for those of us in the Hispanic community.
The Attorney General of the United States is often required to make tough decisions that are controversial. From prosecuting the Chief Executive Officer of a company, to defending the policies and institutional prerogatives of the Executive Branch, I often find myself in the middle of the most complicated issues. It can be trying at times. But even the most difficult and darkest days as Attorney General is better than the best days my dad spent as a construction worker and maintenance man. I have seen the promise of America, I have lived the American dream in the greatest country in the world, and I would not trade one second of having the privilege of serving you.
My mother was born in Texas as an American citizen. When she was a young woman, she picked crops as a migrant worker with other Hispanics. Recently, she explained to me that back then, no one asked to see papers, no one asked whether you were here legally. You simply showed up and did your job, working side-by-side with people that look like us in order to make enough money to feed your family and to survive.
Today, as we know well, more and more people are asking the question about legal migration. Immigration is one of the most difficult issues confronting us as a country and as a community. And how we deal with it will shape Americaís development and dramatically affect the future of thousands upon thousands of Hispanics.
The Senate and the House have each passed immigration legislation. The approaches by each chamber of the Congress are quite different. A conference of Senators and House members will try now to resolve differences in the legislation and produce a compromise bill for the Presidentís signature. Clearly, there is still a lot of work to be done by Congress but the President believes that for the good of the country, we must have comprehensive immigration reform this year. Many of you have already added your voice to the debate, many of you are already standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the President. I believe in the Presidentís vision and I thank you for the support. But we are not finished yet, not yet.
People have very strong views about immigration, views that are shaped and fueled by concerns for family, national security, economics, and politics. Although there are differences of views, there is, I believe, actually a great national consensus on immigration. And Iím confident many of you speak for it.
Americans of all political persuasions want the country to be safe from terrorists, drug traffickers, and others who would harm us. We also want prosperity. And we are a nation that has displayed, despite setbacks and faltering, an unequalled generosity. Equal opportunity is enjoyed here as nowhere else. We are a patriotic, law-abiding country, and we are a welcoming, optimistic country.
Few supporters of the enforcement-only approach to immigration reform wish that there were fewer immigrants ó where would that logic take us? And few who envision America as a welcoming nation favor lawless, open borders ó not after the vicious attacks on 9/11. Most Americans want an immigration policy that protects our national security and economic interests and projects our ideals as a generous, welcoming nation. We as a Nation are not divided on this. So you should continue to speak up for this great American consensus.
As the chief law enforcement officer of the land, I want to be clear. Law enforcement should be at the core of immigration reform. No one is above the law.
This demand for vigorous enforcement of our laws is ó and should be ó the foundation of our national consensus. No one who has actually looked at our record can deny we have been active in seeking to secure the border. Since September 11, 2001, immigration prosecutions are up more than 40 percent. As the President has said, over the past five years the Border Patrol has turned back 6 million would-be entrants.
We have increased the resources and personnel of the Border Patrol. This Administration will have doubled the number of Border Patrol officers by 2008. The National Guard will serve a temporary supporting role as well. We will aid and train State and local authorities so they can better assist Federal officers. We will end the futile catch-and-release program on the Southern border.
New technologies will help detect illegal border crossings and produce a tamper-proof identity card. We have increased funding for interior immigration enforcement by 42 percent, including the prosecution of those who produce fake documents. The President signed legislation doubling federal resources for worksite enforcement. All of this has been done to secure our borders, but much more remains to be done.
We must in particular eliminate the ruthless, inhumane practices of the coyotes who exploit immigrantsí dreams. A key priority for me during my time as Attorney General has been to continue the Departmentís crackdown on human trafficking and human smuggling. Our human-trafficking prosecutions have increased 300 percent since the beginning of the Administration. We must put an end to this modern-day slavery. Our compassion and our conscience demand it.
But we need to be realistic as we confront this challenging problem head on. Hungry and hard-working people will try to get the jobs to feed their families as long as economic disparity exists between the U.S. and its southern neighbors. Immigrant labor benefits American businesses and consumers. The key to better law enforcement on the border and in the interior is dealing forthrightly with these facts.
A temporary worker program that meets the needs of our economy would establish realistic rules in an area where the law has been ignored for decades. The rising tide of immigration would be channeled and controlled, so that it continues to energize our Nation in a constructive way. Lawful taxpayers and safe workplaces would replace illegal workers and unsafe conditions. We would introduce a culture of law and fairness into an area where the rules have long been flouted.
We would apply this same realistic approach to dealing with our current illegal immigrant population. Here again this Administrationís policies reflect the views of a consensus of the American people. More than 11 million immigrants will not depart overnight. It is certainly not in Americaís economic interest for them to do so, and it would be impossible to enforce. How then do we make a seemingly impossible law enforcement task a manageable problem? Comprehensive immigration reform is the only way.
With comprehensive reform, both employees and employers know that there are rules that must be followed. Moreover, both legal and economic incentives would exist to follow the rules. Immigrants who have broken the law must make amends, they must suffer the consequences of non-compliance. There is no question of offering amnesty.
Employers would be subject to fines for breaking the law. We are asking employers to be accountable for the legality of the workers they hire. As the President told the Chamber of Commerce last week, businesses that knowingly employ illegal workers should pay more than speeding ticket fines. In the end, all will benefit. Drawing illegal immigrants out of the shadows of society benefits everyone Ė everyone except the coyotes, human traffickers, and other exploiters. They will be pursued and they will be punished.
As the President has argued, immigrants who want to work and reside in the United States, and enjoy the benefits of our great Nation should learn English ó the language of opportunity. My parents were uneducated, they spoke to each other only in Spanish. But they spoke to me and my brothers and sisters in English so that we would learn to read and write English. My parents realized that English represented freedom in America. Finally, the President believes those who qualify under the law should be allowed to apply for the privilege of citizenship.
Such a comprehensive reform would enhance our Nationís security. Once we have reaffirmed a culture of respect for law, we can direct law enforcement to focus on those who are more likely to pose a genuine danger.
As a former judge, I have often heard powerful arguments of skilled advocates pleading for one side over another. But in the case before us the passionate rhetoric disguises an underlying agreement. We all ó including the diverse audience in this room ó have more in common on these issues than we might at first recognize.
Most Americans, after all, want a secure, law-abiding society and a confident, welcoming, prosperous one. Thatís where you are, and thatís where the President is. Let Congress now show leadership, recognize the national consensus, and act for the American interest.
My youngest son, Gabriel, turned eleven years old yesterday. When I look at him I wonder and worry about his future. Will he enjoy the promise of America? Will he grow up in a country where dreams still come true?
Gabrielís grandfather grew up poor, had only two years of formal schooling and worked construction under the burning sun of hot Houston summers. Gabrielís father graduated from Harvard Law School and was appointed Attorney General of the United States.
Which path will my child take? This is the question asked by all parents. Our childrenís futures are shaped by the decisions we make today. I ask you to join the debate about immigration. The future of our country and our children hangs in the balance.
Thank you again for what you do. May God watch over you and your families and may God continue to bless the United States of America.