Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
National Hispanic Heritage Month
September 25, 2002
(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)
Thank you, David. Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to join you as we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month. Today, we recognize and honor the achievements of Hispanic Americans throughout our country, and especially here at the Department of Justice.
For hundreds of years, people have come to this nation from Spain, the countries of South and Central America and the Caribbean in search of freedom and opportunity. They found it here in America. For hundreds of years, Hispanic Americans have thrived in the unique climate of freedom that is America, and have built vibrant communities of faith, hard work, and public service.
Our national character has been enriched by these communities, as it has by all citizens who embrace freedom and maintain the customs and values brought from other lands. As Americans, we cannot fall into the trap of thinking we are better than other people, because we are other people.
In the days following September 11, few people distinguished themselves as Hispanic Americans or Irish Americans or Japanese Americans. In that time of national crisis, we drew together as one nation, because no matter what our national origin, we are all Americans. All of us have found freedom and opportunity in America, because America is a culture that respects the freedom, the dignity and the rights of every person. America's strength lies not just in its diversity, but also in its unity.
The theme of this year's celebration is: "Strength in unity, faith and diversity." It is a theme that encapsulates perfectly the culture of Hispanic Americans and the culture of America. The poet John Donne said, "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent...therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
Today, we recognize and celebrate the many achievements of the Hispanic American piece of the continent, from scientists to athletes, from public servants to writers, from leaders in the military to musicians. Speaking of outstanding musicians, I think it is safe to say that none of us will ever forget the voice of Daniel Rodriguez, an Hispanic American officer of the New York Police Department. In the days after September 11, he inspired a grieving nation as he sang our national anthem. I am delighted that Daniel Rodriguez is here with us today.
I am pleased to say that the Department of Justice boasts the highest representation - 14 percent - of Hispanics in the federal government. And never before in the history of the Department has there been a more diverse and more qualified leadership team. We have not been satisfied with a team that merely looks like America - we have built a team that reflects the strength of America. I am honored to serve with you, and I look forward to the day when the length and breadth of the Department of Justice - from line attorneys to investigators to staff assistants - reflects the same diversity and professional excellence.
I want to take this opportunity to mention an Hispanic American who truly is an American success story - as well as a valued former colleague. His name is Miguel Estrada, and he was nominated by President Bush in May of 2001 to fill a vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. If confirmed by the Senate, Miguel Estrada would be the first Hispanic to sit on this prestigious court. He is a native of Honduras, and arrived in the United States at the age of 17, hardly able to speak English. Just five years later, Miguel graduated magna cum laude from Columbia College in New York City, and three years after that, he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. Miguel went on to clerk for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, and served as Assistant U.S. Attorney and Deputy Chief in the Southern District of New York.
In 1992, Miguel joined the Department of Justice as an Assistant to the Solicitor General. He has served his country in both Republican and Democrat administrations, has argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court, and was unanimously rated "well-qualified" by the American Bar Association -- their highest evaluation.
Miguel Estrada's nomination has received support from both Republicans and Democrats who admire his honesty, intellect, and outstanding record. Miguel also has the support of numerous Hispanic groups like the Hispanic National Bar Association, the Hispanic Business Roundtable, the U.S.-Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and LULAC - the League of United Latin American Citizens - which called Miguel, quote, "truly one of the rising stars in the Hispanic community and a role model for our youth."
Unfortunately, sixteen months have elapsed since Miguel's nomination. Although President Bush has nominated judges at a record pace, the federal judiciary is shrinking. Courts are overburdened, and the crisis is particularly acute in the appellate courts, like the D.C. Circuit where Miguel hopes to serve. Of the 179 circuit court judgeships, 27 are vacant -- an extraordinary 15 percent vacancy rate.
Miguel Estrada is superbly qualified to sit on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Tomorrow, he will finally have a confirmation hearing before the Senate. In this month in which we honor the achievements of Hispanic Americans, I can think of no greater or more meaningful gesture of honor than for the United States Senate to confirm the first Hispanic American to sit on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
You are also going to hear today from another outstanding Hispanic American, David Iglesias, who is the United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico. As a public servant, he has served our country not just as a United States Attorney, but also as a leader in the military. Mr. Iglesias has served on active duty as a Navy attorney, and is currently a reserve Captain, serving at the U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida. He has a superb record of service, and I thank him for his leadership and commitment to justice.
As we recognize the contributions Hispanic Americans have made to our country, we also recognize that the greatest human achievement belongs to those who respect freedom. At the Department of Justice, our job is to foster the climate of human achievement in America. As Americans, we must continue to respect, enrich, nourish, and safeguard this freedom, this great American value that makes human achievement possible and offers equal opportunity to all Americans.
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