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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks for Secretary Hilda L. Solis
MALDEF Repatriation Monument Dedication
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Los Angeles, CA

Good morning. Buenos dias.

Thank you all for that warm welcome. Y muchas gracias, Eva, for that kind introduction. It's so good to see you. It's great to be home. And it's especially great to be here at “la placita" — a place that has meant so much to our culture and to the advancement our community.

There is truly no better place for this dedication.

I've been honored to speak from the MALDEF podium many times throughout my career in public service. And every time it's been a very special privilege, as I hold the work of this organization very close to my heart. But every now and then, we come together to recognize moments in the history of our community like this one.

Moments that remind us of the struggle endured by those before us. Of the progress we've made and that renew our spirit to continue championing the challenges of our day.

We still have so much work to do.

This mass exodus of our people during the Depression era was indeed a very dark period in our history — as a community — and as a nation. Unfortunately, it's also a period that is often overlooked by our history books. But this story needs to be remembered — and told.

That's why this monument is so important. And that's why, as Eva mentioned, I commissioned a panel in Congress to study this time in our history and made a bold call for a formal apology to Latino families. But you know we need to do more.

Especially now, as the rhetoric surrounding modern-day immigrants has become increasingly demonizing — and hauntingly similar to that of the Depression era.

You know what they're calling us: Incompetent... thugs... criminals. You know it's not true. We need to help change that conversation.

Waves of immigrants have contributed vastly to the wealth and prosperity of America. Even still, we're seeing these images painted all across the country. In Texas and Arizona, and especially in Alabama, where the anti-immigrant activity mirrors that of the Depression the most.

You know that in tough economic times vulnerable communities are the easiest target for exploitation. In so many ways, they take the hardest hit.

Families in Alabama are packing up and fleeing the state, leaving behind their homes and the hope of a better life for their children. Immigrant workers are being forced to abandon their jobs.

As a result, agricultural fields are thinning. Crops are going bad. Businesses are closing. Investors are looking elsewhere and students aren't showing up to school. So this kind of marginalization doesn't just hurt immigrant communities — it hurts everyone. It hurts businesses, depresses wages, and devastates entire communities and local economies.

At a time when we're re-building this country to compete in a 21st century economy, that's just something we cannot afford.

If we are serious about meeting the challenges of our future, and if the promise of America is to be realized, then we must be a nation that embraces the contributions of every person — from every community — regardless of where they come from.

I know MALDEF has been doing important work to support immigrant communities in states like Alabama. And we're doing our part at the Department of Labor to reach out and to educate immigrant workers about their rights on the job in Alabama.

I'm reminded of a letter written in the early 1930's, by a manager to his boss at the chamber of commerce here in Los Angeles. He wrote with regard to the employment of Mexican immigrants, “It is a question of pigment, not a question of citizenship or right."

But it is a question of rights.

I think Hillary Clinton said it best in a recent speech on human rights. She said, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights... rights are not conferred by government; they are the birthright of all people. It does not matter what country we live in, who our leaders are, or even who we are. Because we are human, we therefore have rights. And because we have rights, governments are bound to protect them."

All people working in this country have the right to the federal minimum wage, regardless of immigration status. And our federal government — under both Republican and Democratic presidents — has always enforced that law.

So we're proud to join MALDEF in providing a voice for our immigrant brothers and sisters and in educating them about their rights.

Still, we know that real change lies in passing comprehensive reform and the DREAM Act. So we need to keep pushing. And I'm so proud to have President Obama on our side.

As you know, the President I have been working hand-in-hand, with advocacy organizations to elevate the conversation on reform.

But I know some of you feel frustrated. You see that the other party will do nothing about this issue, so you want this administration to do more. And look, the President knows this.

I have the honor to sit with him in meetings, to chat with him in car rides and other places informally. And I can tell you that the President cares deeply about this issue.

He comes from a family whose father was an immigrant. We've shared our stories. I've seen how he interacts with our community at every level, and it's sincere and heartfelt.I can assure you we're doing the very best we can.

And we have MALDEF to thank for the strong progress we've made under this President's leadership.

So I'm going to keep pushing. I'm going to continue telling my story. And I going to keep telling the story of the thousands of immigrants who suffered through this period of the Great Depression — and whose shoulders we stand on today.

As community and as a nation, for the sake of our children and grandchildren, we must continue to tell the story of this often overlooked moment in our history. This monument will undoubtedly help us do that.

It will remind us of our common struggles, goals and victories. It will inspire us with its spirit and its sacrificial story. And it will fortify us to continue advancing the progress of our community.

With this monument we will learn, connect, and come closer as a people.

Thank you MALDEF, and everyone here today for making me part of this special moment.

Muchísimas gracias y Si Se Puede.