Remarks by President Bush at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast

The following text is of remarks by President Bush at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast:
J.W. Marriott Hotel
Washington, D.C.
8:08 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Luis. Thanks for your introduction. Right before we came in, I said, Luis, how’s your school doing? See, I got to first know Luis when I went into inner-city Philadelphia, and he said, I’m starting a school. I said, how’s your school doing? He said, “Oh, pretty good.” He said, “Last year we had 69 of the 70 graduates from our school go to college.” (Applause.)
Luis’ school is doing better than pretty good, it’s doing great. And we hold out hope to some kid, you know, that it’s amazing what results we can achieve in a society when you raise the bar, and you say, I have hope for you; I love you. It’s amazing what our country can achieve. And so, Luis, thank you very much for your leadership, and thanks for having me here at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast.
I think it is fitting we come together to recognize the importance of prayer and the importance of faith. You see, Americans are a people of faith. And for millions of our citizens, prayer is a daily part of life. In prayer we give thanks for the many blessings bestowed upon us by our Creator. We’re blessed with courageous young men and women willing to defend us in time of war. We’re blessed with a growing economy and material prosperity. And we’re blessed by the diversity and creativity of millions of Hispanic Americans who enrich our great country.
We’ve got plenty of blessings to give thanks for, and I’m blessed by the fact that millions of Americans, many of whom I’ve never seen face-to- face, pray for me and my family. It’s one of the great blessings of America, to be President of a land of prayer. (Applause.) So this morning we come together to give our thanks for all our blessings, and recognize our nation’s continuing dependence on divine providence.
I appreciate the sponsors of this breakfast. It’s an important breakfast. This is a time for us to come together in common purpose to say we’re humble enough to be on bended knee. I appreciate my friend, Attorney General Al Gonzales, for joining us today. It’s good to see you. (Applause.) Mi General. The Director of the Peace Corps, Gaddi Vasquez. Thank you for coming, Gaddi; appreciate you being here. (Applause.) I see Senator Brownback — I think — yes, there he is. (Laughter.) I know there are other members of the Senate and the Congress who are here. Thank you all for coming today, it’s really important that you’re here. And I know the participants of this breakfast are glad you’re here, as well. I appreciate all the pastors and community leaders who are with us here today, too. Thanks for coming.
In America, we are a people who profess many different faiths — with some of our citizens embracing no faith at all. In America, all are welcome. No citizen stands above another. In America, what unites us all is our dedication to freedom. And what brings us together today as men and women of faith is our belief that we’re all equal and precious in the eyes of the Almighty.
I like to tell people that my job as the President is to promote the fact that people are free to worship however you choose. See, that’s what distinguishes us from the Taliban or al Qaeda — that we’re free to worship and that we’re all equally American. If you’re a Christian, Jew or Muslim, you’re equally American. If you choose not to worship, you’re equally American.
But I’ve also said, from my personal perspective, I rely upon the Almighty for strength and comfort. (Applause.) The daily example of our Hispanic communities reminds us that strong faith and strong families can build a better future for all. We are more — we’re a more hopeful society because men and women of Hispanic descent have put their faith and values into action. (Applause.)
More than 200,000 Hispanic Americans serve with courage and honor in our military, some of whom are with us today. And we thank you for your service. (Applause.) Our government is enriched and strengthened by the Latinos who serve here in Washington, D.C. Across America, Hispanic leaders are serving on the front lines of our armies of compassion, reaching out to change the lives of brothers and sisters in need, changing this great country one heart, one soul at a time. (Applause.)
I like to remind people that government can hand out money, but government cannot put faith in a person’s heart, or a sense of purpose in a person’s life. The best way to strengthen this country is for people such as yourself to continue to reach out to a neighbor in need, to listen to the universal call to love a neighbor just like you’d like to be loved yourself, to mentor to a child who needs to learn to read, to feed the hungry, to provide shelter for the homeless.
And that’s precisely what the leaders in this room do. You’re inspired by prayer, you move to action, and America is better off when you go into our neighborhoods to reach out to those who hurt; to provide comfort for those who are sick; to say loud and clear to a brother and sister in need, we love you, and what can we do to help you? On behalf of a grateful nation, I thank you for being soldiers in the armies of compassion, and for making America a hopeful place for more of our citizens.
Speaking about a hopeful place, it is important for us in this important debate on immigration to remember that we’ve always been a hopeful nation. We are a land of immigrants. (Applause.) We’re a country where people — we’re a compassionate people. We’re also a nation of laws, and being a nation of laws is not contradictory with being a compassionate country. We can enforce our laws. And we can treat people with respect and treat people with dignity and remember our heritage as a nation.
Immigration system isn’t working today, and it needs to be fixed. Our borders need to be secure. The American people from all walks of life expect the government to secure our border. And we will do that.
The system isn’t fixed — the system is broken because we’ve got too many citizens, too many people here, too many people living in our country, living in the shadows of our society beyond the reach of the law. That’s not — that’s not — that’s not the America I know. The America I know is one in which people are treated with respect; the America I know is one in which when we see something broken, we fix it.
So we’ll secure our borders. We’ll make sure people who hire people illegally pay a fine. But I want our fellow citizens to understand, you cannot secure our borders, and you cannot be a compassionate society unless we provide a legal channel for people to work in America. We’ve got people coming across our borders who want to come and work and put food on the table for their families. (Applause.)
When I was Governor of Texas, I reminded people, family values do not stop at the Rio Grande River. There are people who are coming to our country who are doing jobs Americans are not doing. (Applause.) And we need a legal and orderly system. If we want to enforce the border, we must have a system that says you don’t have to sneak across our border in order to find work. You don’t need to risk your life.
So therefore, I strongly support, and call upon the Congress to support the temporary worker program that says you can come into our country legally, so that we can match willing worker with willing employer, doing jobs Americans are not doing; and you can come for a period of time and you can work, and then you can go home in an orderly way, as well.
The other part of this debate that’s really important is, what do we do with the folks that are here. See, there’s a difference between those who have newly arrived that are doing work and those who have been here for quite a period of time. We’ve got people in this country who have paid their taxes, own a home, whose children are becoming valedictorians in high schools and colleges; people have been working hard.
This debate is — there’s a heated debate on this subject here in Washington. There are some who say, well, best thing to do is just call them citizens right off the bat. I disagree with that. It’s called amnesty. I don’t think that would be fair to those who are legally here and are waiting in line to become a citizen. You probably know many such citizens — they’re here legally and they say, we want to be a citizen of your country and we said, fine, get in line and wait. Granting amnesty to those folks who have been here illegally would be unfair to those who have been here legally. We’re a nation of laws and we must uphold the laws.
And then there are those here in Washington who say, why don’t we just find the folks and send them home. That isn’t going to work. That’s not a good idea. (Applause.) It sounds simple; it’s impractical. There’s a reasonable middle ground. There’s a reasonable way to uphold our laws and treat people with respect, and that is this: if you’ve paid your taxes, you’ve been here for a while, you can prove that you’ve been working, you’ve got a clean background; if you want to become a citizen you pay a fine, you learn English, you learn the values and ideals of America that have made us one nation under God. (Applause.) And then if you want to be a citizen, you can get in line — but in the back of the line, not the front of the line. You can wait in line, like those who have been legally here in America. We don’t have to choose between the extremes. There’s a rational middle ground.
I call upon Congress to enact common- sense immigration reform that enforces our border, that upholds our laws, that treats people with respect, and remembers the greatness of America is the fact that we’ve been able to come from different backgrounds, united under the common ideals of our country and we live one nation under God. (Applause.)
For centuries, people have come to this nation because it is the land of promise. It’s a place where people can realize their dreams. Yesterday I was in Omaha, Nebraska, at a Catholic Charities institute that was helping people learn English and learn the ideals of our country. I remember walking into a civics class, and the people were slightly startled to see the President walk in. I guess it’s kind of the ultimate civics lesson. (Laughter.) But I was proud to be there. I really was.
And we sat down with a group of folks at a table to discuss entrepreneurship. And I went around the room, asking, how long have you been here, and what are you doing? And I remember coming to the fellow, Piña — I think his name was Federico Piña. He said he started a couple years ago a automobile maintenance business. He said it was a dream of his to have his own business. I said, “How’s it going?” He said, “Well, I’ve employed three people, and I own my own building.” Here’s a man who came to our country with a dream, and he’s realizing that dream.
And what our citizens have got to understand is that if you’re able to maintain a sense of hope in the United States, and people work hard to realize that hope, it inspires our nation as a whole. It lifts our spirit. It reinvigorates what America is all about.
We have a great opportunity here in Washington to remember the traditions and history of the United States of America and to uplift that sense that America is a welcoming society, a country of law, but a country that also says if you work hard and dream big dreams, you can realize your dreams. And many of those who are in our country who are working hard to realize their dreams also rely upon a higher power to help them realize those dreams. And so I’m here to say thank you for your prayers, thank you for your example, thank you for helping your fellow citizens, and thank you for being great citizens of the United States of America.
Que Dios les bendiga. (Applause.)
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