This morning the President addressed the Esperanza National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference. He spoke at length
of the role faith has played in America’s history, and the role it will play in America’s future. He spoke of the role prayer played in Abraham Lincoln’s life, adding, "But prayer is more than a last resort. Prayer helps us search for meaning in our own lives, and it helps us find the vision and the strength to see the world that we want to build."
The President went on to discuss immigration, which he described as another fundamental element of America’s character:
The American people – the American people believe in immigration, but they also believe that we can't tolerate a situation where people come to the United States in violation of the law, nor can we tolerate employers who exploit undocumented workers in order to drive down wages. That's why we're taking steps to strengthen border security, and we must build on those efforts. We must also clarify the status of millions who are here illegally, many who have put down roots. For those who wish to become citizens, we should require them to pay a penalty and pay taxes, learn English, go to the back of the line behind those who played by the rules. That is the fair, practical, and promising way forward, and that's what I'm committed to passing as President of the United States. (Applause.)
We must never forget that time and again, the promise of America has been renewed by immigrants who make their story part of the American story. We see it in every state of our country. We see it in our families and in our neighborhoods. As President, I've been honored to see it demonstrated by the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States.
Last month, I had the honor of welcoming a group of our service members as citizens for the very first time. In that crowd, there were faces from every corner of the world. And one man from Nicaragua – Jeonathan Zapata – had waited his whole life to serve our country even though he was not yet a citizen. "By serving in the military," he said, "I can also give back to the United States." He's done so in Afghanistan, and he even helped man the 400,000th aircraft landing aboard the USS Kitty Hawk.
And Jeonathan's story is not unique either. He's part of a proud legacy of service. For generations, Hispanic Americans have served with great commitment and valor, and there are now nearly 150,000 Hispanic Americans serving under our flag. And today we are proud – (applause) – today we are proud to welcome several of them who are wounded warriors recovering at Walter Reed. Please join me in honoring their service, and in keeping them and all of our troops in our thoughts and prayers – please. (Applause.)
(President Barack Obama gives remarks to the Esperanza National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Friday, June 19, 2009. Official White House Photographer Samantha Appleton.)