Rubio: America changes immigrants, too

06/29/2013 08:51:00 PM
Tom Karst

From the June 27 Congressional Record, the speech by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in support of immigration reform. Powerful stuff, in my opinion. For all those Republicans who "wanted" to vote for immigration reform but didn't, Rubio has elevated himself the do-nothing crowd as a front-runner for the 2016 presidential contest  - and even more so if the House passes its own immigration reform bill and this needed reform is signed into law.

 

Mr. RUBIO. Madam President, my father had a rough childhood. His mom died just 4 days shy of his ninth birthday. The small catering business his parents ran together had collapsed, so as a young child he was forced to leave school and go to work, and he would work virtually every day for the rest of his life.

My mother grew up just as hard. Her father was disabled by polio as a child, and he struggled to provide for his seven daughters. My parents met at a small store where my mother was a cashier and my father was a security guard.

He actually lived and slept in the storage room of that store. Like all young couples, they had dreams. My mother wanted to be an actress, and my father tried hard to get ahead. In fact, after work he would take correspondence courses to become a TV and radio repairman, but it was hard because he barely knew how to read.

They did everything they could to make a better life, but living in an increasingly unstable country, with limited education and no connections, they just couldn’t. So they saved as much as they could, and on May 27, 1956, they boarded a plane to Miami. They came to America in search of a better life.

Like most recent arrivals, life in America wasn’t easy either. My father had someone actually phonetically write on a small piece of paper the words ‘‘I am looking for work.’’ He memorized those words. Those were literally the first words he learned to speak in English. He took day jobs wherever he could find them.

They both went to work at a factory, building aluminum chairs. My dad started working as a bar boy on Miami Beach, eventually becoming a bartender. He saved money and tried to open some businesses. When that didn’t work, they tried Los Angeles and they tried Las Vegas, but that also didn’t work. So he found himself back on Miami Beach behind a bar. The truth is that they were iscouraged and homesick for Cuba too.

In fact, in the early days of Castro’s rule, before he came out as a Marxist, they even entertained going back permanently. But, of course, communism took root in Havana, and that became impossible too. I am sure that on their worst days they wondered if it would ever get better.

Then the miracle we know as America began to change their lives. By 1967 they had saved enough money to buy a house within walking distance of the Orange Bowl, where on Sundays they would make extra money by letting people park on their lawn. My older sister was in ballet; my older brother, the star quarterback at Miami High. But it wasn’t just their lives that changed, it was also their hearts.

They still spoke Spanish at home and kept all the customs they brought with them from Cuba, but with each passing year this country became their own. My mother recalls how on that terrible November day in 1963 she wept at the news that her President had been slain. She remembers that magical night in 1969 when an American walked on the Moon and she realized that now nothing was impossible, because, you see, well before they ever became citizens in their hearts, they had already become Americans.

It reminds us that sometimes we focus so much on how immigrants can change America, we forget that America has always changed immigrants even more. But this is not just my story. This is our story. It reminds us of the words etched on the marble above the rostrum of the Senate: ‘‘E Pluribus Unum’’—out of many, one. Now, no one should dispute that, like every sovereign nation on this planet, we have a right to control who comes in. But unlike other countries, we are not afraid of people coming in here from other places.

Instead, inspired byour Judeo-Christian principles, we Americans have seen the stranger and invited him in, and our Nation has been blessed for it in ways that remind us of these ancient words: God divided the sea and led them through and made the waters stand up like a wall. By day he led them with a cloud; by night, with a light of fire. He split the rocks in the desert. He gave them plentiful to drink as from the deep. He made streams flow out from the rock and made waters run down like rivers.

He commanded the clouds above and opened the gates of heaven. He rained down manna for their food and gave them bread from heaven. Our history is filled with dramatic evidence that God’s hand is upon our land. Who among us would dispute that we Americans are a blessed people? In the harbor of our most famous city, there is a statue of a woman holding a lamp, and at the base of that statue is a poem that reads: Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp! . . . Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

For over 200 years now they have come in search of liberty and freedom for sure but often just in search of a job to feed their kids and a chance at a better life. From Ireland and Poland, from Germany and France, from Mexico and Cuba, they have come. They have come because in the land of their birth, their dreams were bigger than their opportunities. Here they brought their language and their customs, their religions and their music, and somehow they have made them ours as well. From a collection of people from everywhere, we became one people—the most exceptional Nation in all of human history. Even with all of our challenges, we remain that shining city on the hill.

We are still the hope of the world. Go to our factories and our fields, go to the kitchens and construction sites, go to the cafeterias in this very Capitol, and there you will find that the miracle of America is still alive. For here in America, those who once had no hope will give their kids the chance at a life they always wanted for themselves. Here in America, generations of unfulfilled dreams will finally come to pass. And that is why I support this reform—not just because I believe in immigrants but because I believe in America even more.



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