Thank all of you for coming today. I'm Pete Gallego, and I have the privilege of representing the people of the 23rd District in the US Congress. America is made up of many stories. I'd like to talk briefly about several of them; to underscore why immigration reform is so important to me and to the country.
I believe everyone in this country can write the next great chapter in the amazing American story.
The 23rd congressional district - runs 800 miles along the U.S./Mexico border. No other district in the country shares a larger border with our neighbors to the South. And, the 23rd congressional district is full of great American stories.
There was a young boy born in the small village of San Carlos, Mexico, with no electricity or running water. His parents were seasonal workers. He would make the trip with his parents when they would come to the US to work.
One year, when his parents made the trip and as he was growing older, his parents stayed long enough that he could start school.
He faced hardships. The New York Times chronicled the bus ride he was on as the longest bus ride in the nation. It was over 100 miles to school one-way.
And he was good at school. Even as a child, he knew that education was the only way to break out of the cycle of poverty.
When it came time for his family to return home, he refused. For a time, he lived on his own & fished in the Rio Grande for his food. He slept alone under the stars and made his way to the school bus every morning.
One day, tragedy struck. A fishing hook became embedded in this boy' finger. It got infected. He needed medical attention.
He wandered into the nearby town of Terlingua. There, a local businessman noticed the young man - and he noticed the fish hook protruding from his finger.
The businessman learned that this little boy lived on his own. He took the young boy in so he could have a real roof over his head while he continued his studies.
After high school, he wanted to give back to the country he had come to love. He joined the United States Navy. He earned numerous awards. He became a citizen. He served in the Navy for eight years, left to start college and found a job in the Texas Capitol.
From the new man on the totem pole, he worked his way up to become chief of staff to a member of the Texas House.
How do I know all of this? Because the young man in question was my chief of staff.
Today he's graduate of The University of Texas School of Law and awaiting the results of the Texas Bar Exam.
That's the power of the American dream. That is a great American story.
But it wouldn't have been possible if somewhere along the way, this young man hadn't been able to adjust his status.
There are many stories just like his. We saw some of those stories in the video today. The stories of parents who moved to find work - to give a better life to their children. The stories of kids just like my friend, who have grown up here their entire lives, been dedicated to their studies, have gone to college but are in limbo. Even though they got some help through the President's deferred action program, they are in fear that at any second - they could lose their status and be yanked from this country.
This auditorium is full of folks with great American stories - many with immigrant ties.
Congressman Castro's grandmother came to this country as an orphan from Mexico. Representative Rafael Anchia here in the audience, is the son of Mexican and Spanish immigrants who came to this country in pursuit of the American dream. The mother and grandmother of Representative Poncho Nevarez, from Eagle Pass, also here in the audience came to this country from Mexico in the 50s to work. All of these folks have great American stories.
There are folks who say people should always "wait their turn." To these constituents, the current system meant a bureaucracy that could literally hold the power of life and death. Here's what could happen when an immigration system isn't based on reality.
This is a story from Del Rio, Texas. Retired United States Marine Corporal Josue Obregon filed a petition for his wife Estéfania who still lived in Ciudad Acuña. The young couple was expecting their first child- when she suffered from an internal cyst which would require a blood transfusion.
She could not get the appropriate medical treatment in Mexico. And even though Mrs. Obregon had been approved for a spousal visa, it was still "being processed."
She would not be allowed to come to the United States to get the treatment she and her unborn child needed without an emergency visa.
Even as the spouse of a retired Marine, whose spousal visa had already been approved for the future, her emergency visa was denied. Finally, my office stepped in, and Mrs. Obregon was able to get to the hospital in Del Rio and give birth to a beautiful baby boy. And now this baby boy will be able to write his own great American story. But this was not due to the current immigration system, which would potentially have allowed both mother and son to die due to inadequate medical care while "waiting in line" for a visa that had already been approved.
Here is the message for all of you. Immigration reform is coming - but it's not because some people in Washington have had a change of heart. They haven't. They've had a change of mind.
Seventy one percent of Latinos - due partly to what they considered to be hostility on immigration - voted for a Democratic President. Most people who run for office understand demographics. They understand that unless they want to become politically irrelevant - it's time to move forward on immigration reform.
If you want your friends, your neighbors, the kids in schools, to have a shot at writing the next great American story, you need to participate in our democracy. Vote. There are folks here right outside who are registering voters. If you're eligible and haven't already done so, please do so. Get others to the polls as well. Tell elected officials that you support reform and that the time is now
At some point, I hope our elected officials will be willing to help people like Benjamin- the student in the video, or Sra. Canizales- the mother who courageously shared her story, finish their own chapters in the American story.
The time has come to craft a solution.
My paternal grandfather worked cattle and founded a small restaurant, my maternal grandfather built fences across the hardscrabble landscape of West Texas. Today I have the privilege of representing the 23rd district in congress. That is my American story.
In this nation, our values teach us that families should stick together and that hard work, not circumstances, should shape our future. Our nation becomes stronger as more people pledge allegiance to our flag and can commit fully to this nation and our economy. Immigrants have made this country great. Many of these immigrants will be writing the next great chapter in this American story.
With that, I have the honor of introducing Congressman Luis Gutierrez from the state of Illinois, who has been THE point person on immigration reform in the U.S. Congress.
Es un placer tener el privilegio de presentarles a Luis Gutierrez.