Remarks by Vice President Harris at the NALEO 39th Annual Conference
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, NALEO! Good afternoon. (Applause.) Have a seat. Have a seat. Good afternoon.
Oh, it’s so good to — look at this wonderful, big crowd. It’s so good to be back together under the same roof, isn’t it? Yeah, it’s good to see everyone.
And I hope we all walk away from days like this and moments like this when we go back to the places where we work every day, often being one of the only like us in a room or who has had the life experience we’ve had — I think these are moments that are very important to remember that we are not alone. There are all of us who are in these rooms together, even if we don’t see each other at a particular moment. So, it’s a good time to be together. So, thank you all. (Applause.)
And I want to thank Ricardo and Mara for that kind introduction and for your leadership of this organization during an unprecedented time during these years of the pandemic and so many crises that we have been facing as a country.
And, of course, I am honored to be here with the board of directors of NALEO and so many of our nation’s leaders.
Before I start speaking as I planned to speak, I do want to speak briefly about the decision from today’s United States Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs case.
Here is what I believe that decision means: For nearly 50 years, we have talked about what Roe v. Wade protects. Today, as of right now, as of this very minute, we can only talk about what Roe v. Wade protected. Past tense.
The great aspiration of our nation has been to expand freedom. It is something so many of us has spent our careers fighting for. But the expansion of freedom clearly is not inevitable, and it certainly is not something that just happens — not unless we defend our most fundamental principles.
The strength of our nation has always been that, despite the odds and the obstacles, we push to move forward; that we are guided by what we see that can be, unburdened by what has been. And I know everyone in this room understands this and has, in many ways, lived a life that illustrates this.
And so, because, of course, NALEO has been fighting to move our nation forward for nearly 50 years on other critical issues and the issues that fundamentally are about the ideals and aspirations of our nation, I am honored to be with you here today.
And I also want you to know that I bring you greetings from President Joe Biden — because we are grateful, yes. (Applause.) We are grateful for the work of this organization and its members to galvanize policy members and leaders, to mobilize, to organize, and to do that work on behalf of the Latino community and, by extension, the entire nation — all of that work being in pursuit of progress and our collective ability for our nation to achieve its ideals. So, I thank you all.
I have always felt a special connection to this organization, as Ricardo said. And, yes, as a proud daughter of California — (laughs) — (applause) — many of us the daughters and sons of California — I am proud that NALEO, of course, was founded by a great Californian, Edward Roybal. And we must always remember him. (Applause.)
And throughout my career, I have worked alongside many of the leaders of this organization, including, of course, our collective friend and my dear friend, now-Senator Alex Padilla, who served — (applause) — yes, he and I served together many years. I was mostly based in the Bay Area. He was in Los Angeles. But then, as we were coming up, we both ended up as state constitutional officers when he was Secretary of State and I was Attorney General of California.
And I partnered with so many of NALEO members on so many issues that range from supporting small businesses, to immigration reform, to voting rights, education, and so many more issues.
And over the years, as Ricardo said, I have spoken with this organization many times. But I am honored that this is the first time that I, in person, am speaking with you as Vice President of the United States. (Applause.)
So, I believe — in fact, I know — there is a common characteristic among us all: We all serve because we believe in the magnificence of our nation and its potential. We all believe in fighting to achieve our nation’s highest ideals, knowing, as I said earlier, they don’t just happen. We don’t just achieve them by being, we achieve them by being committed to reaching those ideals.
We all believe in a future where the promise of liberty and justice is made real for all Americans. We believe in a future where hard work pays off, where families can get ahead and stay ahead. We believe in a future where every child can reach their God-given potential.
We believe that all communities have a right to be safe and healthy.
And we believe that anyone should be able to have a dream and achieve that dream — a future where immigrants have the opportunity to have what they deserve in terms of a pathway towards citizenship.
We believe in a nation and in a future where protecting the freedom to vote is not a partisan issue.
We believe that women should be able to make decisions about their own bodies without government interference. (Applause.)
And so, you know, when the President and I took office, our country, as we all remember, was headed in the wrong direction. Just think: We were facing a pandemic that was out of control. We had a situation that, in that pandemic, it’s important to note, it was particularly devastating in terms of its impact on the Latino community, especially among those who were frontline workers and essential workers and farmworkers, so many of whom were, in terms of the essential workers, DREAMers. We remember how folks risked their own health and the health of their families to keep safe communities and to keep our country running.
Remember, our nation also faced — and we can talk about current day as well — but then, in particular, we faced a historic economic challenge as a result of the pandemic.
But together with you, the President and I were not deterred. With your partnership — remember — it was a difficult road but we got folks vaccinated. We reopened our schools and kept people in their homes.
Together, because of our collective work, we achieved record job creation, record labor participation, and the largest single-year drop in Latino unemployment in recorded history. (Applause.)
In addition, we have assembled the most diverse administration in the history of our country. And I should note, we have appointed the most Latino leaders ever to Cabinet-level position. (Applause.)
In addition, we expanded the Child Tax Credit, such that so many children — and in particular, the Latino child poverty rate hit a new record low last year.
Because of the once-in-a-generation Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we lowered the cost of high-speed Internet for nearly 40 percent of households in America.
Because we invested in small businesses, business owners across the country kept their doors open and Latino entrepreneurs started new companies at a higher rate last year than at any other point in the last decade.
In fact, just recently I was in Monrovia, California — many of the Californians know where that is. (Applause.) California. (Laughter.) Just joking. I got jokes, okay. (Laughter.)
So, I was there in Monrovia, and I was visiting this incredible small business — it’s a woman small-business owner, and it was — the business is called Dream Big Children’s Center. And its owner, her name is Cristina Cordeiro. We talked for quite some time. Her mother was there. And we talked about her inspiration, which is her mother was a great caregiver. Right? She grew in a community where we care about the children.
And so, she created this business that parents would rely on to provide daily therapy to children with special needs. And if you can imagine, this — especially during the pandemic, for all of us who have children in our lives — it was incredibly critical, especially during those many, many months of the pandemic, that we would have access to the needs of services for our children. So, it was very critical that she stayed open during the pandemic.
Fortunately, because of funding she received through our administration’s American Rescue Plan, she was not only able to continue providing services in her community, but she was able to grow her business. And since the start of the pandemic, she has opened 50 — or two new locations with 50 new employees.
And I mention that because, during the course of the last couple of years — and in particular in the last year and half after we passed, together with your help, the ARP — I’ve met so many small-business owners who have seen success — and the kind of success that I know NALEO and this organization and its members have been fighting for, understanding that so much of the economic health and vitality of our communities has been centered in the small businesses, in men and women who are invested in their community; who understand the community — the language of the community, the culture of the community, the needs of the community — and are, therefore, best suited to actually uplift the community economically and in every other way.
And together, because of the work that we have done, in particular with the ARP, we’ve been able to do that and we’re seeing results.
And so, whether it is my work in the United States Senate or the work that we did, in terms of in the Senate, helping small businesses access capital, or the partnership, together, that we had to get the Restaurant Revitalization Fund included in the ARP, we are seeing that small businesses are starting to thrive in our country, and with a particular emphasis on women- and minority-owned small businesses.
So, I want to thank you all for the work you’ve done in that regard as well. (Applause.)
So with that being said, we also know that people are still hurting. There is no question that we still face a number of serious challenges. And today then, I’d like to talk about three of the issues which I believe are among the priorities of us in this room: one, lowering costs for families, building a fair and humane immigration system, and protecting people from gun violence.
So, first, I think we all agree and know inflation is still too high. We are seeing higher prices at the store because supply chains slowed down dramatically during the pandemic and higher prices at the gas pump, in large part because of Putin’s unprovoked war in Ukraine. And families across our nation, in particular working families, are feeling the effect.
I know you know the President and I are using every tool at our disposal to lower costs, including the cost of gas, childcare, eldercare, and prescription drugs like insulin — which we should be capping, by the way, at $35 a month. (Applause.)
And as leaders of the communities that you represent, you know that these are some of the costs that most matter to the families of our communities. And we know that making essential needs more affordable will keep our country on a path to stable and steady growth.
So, there is work that we still have to do. But as we are looking at these issues, as we discuss the issue of inflation, let us agree that we cannot abandon our commitment to supporting families on the issue of childcare, on the issue of eldercare, on the issue of the cost of prescription drugs. Because these are costs that are, without any question, also weighing down the ability of families to succeed and thrive. And in large part, a lot of these issues are incumbent on elected leaders to solve, and they have the ability to solve.
Speaking of, let’s talk about the second issue: immigration. There’s still so much work to be done on that. We have partnered, so many of us, over the years to fight to fix our country’s broken immigration system and, in particular, to fight for our Dreamers.
When I was Attorney General of California, you probably remember that we, together, fought in the courts and spoke out when they ruled against DACA and DAPA. When I was in the United States Senate, we worked together on legislation that would create a pathway to citizenship.
And today, our administration continues to urge Congress to create a pathway not only for DREAMers, but also for individuals with temporary protected status and for farmworkers. In fact, when I was in the Senate, I was proud to sponsor the Farm Worker Bill of Rights. We — (applause) — thank you.
And so we issued a proposed rule that would preserve and fortify DACA. Our administration and the Department of Justice continues to defend DACA in the courts. In fact, just last week, on the 10th anniversary of DACA, I was again reminded of why we have to continue the fight. I invited a group of DREAMers to come in and — and they came into the White House, to my West Wing office, and each of them was so committed to paying forward the opportunity that they received and the opportunity that they know that folks who are entitled to receive. One of the DREAMers became a kindergarten teacher after college. And today he is organizing a diverse coalition in support of a pathway towards citizenship.
And I don’t need to tell anybody here: DREAMers are serving in our military, they are attending college, they are working in Fortune 100 companies. I mentioned the number who were frontline workers who were sacrificing so much of their own lives and service to their community and perfect strangers.
And it is a tragedy that we can’t pull this together as a nation and pass legislation, creating a legal pathway for them, for farmworkers, for TPS, and understanding what this means to families every day.
We — you know, it’s not on the front page of the newspaper, necessarily, but it’s real; I don’t have to tell anybody here.
These kids, their parents, so many blended families, mixed families, still every day are in fear about a knock at a door and what that might mean, whether a parent might come home at night.
And I don’t need to tell anybody here this, because most of us are in the same situation: We are a nation of immigrants. Raise your hand if you have a parent that was not born in the United States — this room of leaders. (Applause.)
So, as do we, these young people represent the promise of who we are as a country. You know, I said to one of them — I said to one of the young leaders that were there that day, and I said, “You know, my mother came to the United States…” — and we’re in my West Wing office in the White House, and I looked at — I looked at him and I said, “You know, my mother came to the United States from India when she was 19 years old. And I’m Vice President of the United States.” (Applause.) And he broke out in a big smile. He said, “Okay, I got it. I understand.”
So, all of that to say that we have to keep fighting on this issue.
The third issue that I know is our nation’s highest priority — one of them — is our responsibility to create safe communities and protect people from gun violence.
What happened in Uvalde broke the hearts of our entire country. We were all shaken to our core by the massacre of those 19 children — those babies — and their two teachers. And we, of course, still remember and mourn the 23 lives senselessly taken by a white nationalist in El Paso three years ago.
And our hearts are heavy when news breaks about similar vicious, hateful attacks at a grocery store in Buffalo, a synagogue in Pittsburgh, or a nightclub in Orlando.
And, of course, there’s a through-line between these tragedies: an epidemic of hate that touches us all. And, I believe, to combat hate we must speak truth about what fuels these attacks, and we must have the courage to take action that will save lives.
I think many of us agree that our country needs sensible gun safety laws; that yesterday’s Supreme Court decision, which struck down one of those laws, defies common sense and defies the Constitution. And we must protect people from the gun violence that claims countless lives every day in America, which is why the bipartisan gun safety bill that is on the way to the President’s desk is an important and necessary step.
But we cannot stop. We cannot stop here, and we must continue to do more. Because, I mean, let’s be — let’s be real: No 9-year-old should be scared to go to school. No 15-year-old should fear shopping for school supplies. No 25-year-old should be scared to go with friends to a nightclub. And no 86-year-old should be afraid to shop for groceries. And no 18-year-old should be able to buy a weapon of war. (Applause.)
So, I’ll end with this point: If there is one belief that I know everyone in this room shares it is our belief in the potential, in the promise, and the strength of our nation.
We all choose to serve because we know our country is strong enough to overcome the challenges we face, because we believe it is our duty as public officials to work together in pursuit of progress.
So let us always remember and let us remind others that we all have so much more in common than what separates us. And let us renew then our commitment to fight for unity, especially in these days.
Let us continue — and NALEO has done this so well over so many years — to understand the power and the beauty of building and reinforcing coalitions based on knowing how much we all have in common. Because I believe that the only way to tackle the biggest problems, the biggest challenges that we as a nation face is to tackle them together.
And NALEO, of course, knows this more than most — because, again, you have been bringing folks together for nearly 50 years. And in those 50 years, you have used your collective voice to advocate for more equity, more opportunity, and more possibility for all communities.
So with that, I am here to say the President and I are with you. We stand with you every step of the way. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)