Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks for Secretary Hilda L. Solis
"It's a New Day"
League of United Latin American Citizens Women's Luncheon
Friday, June 29, 2012
Thank you all for that warm welcome. Muchisimas gracias y saludos a todos!
It's great to be back in Orlando with so many long-time friends and colleagues. I have to recognize two very special people this afternoon: LULAC National President Margaret Moran and your Executive Director, Brent Wilkes. Thank you for your vision and leadership of this incredible organization.
It's always an honor to be with my LULAC family. But today is particularly special. We've had an extraordinary couple of weeks haven't we? Tremendous progress has been achieved for our community.
We were so thrilled with the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act yesterday. This was a victory for Latinos and the millions of Americans who will continue to benefit from this law. As many as 9 million Latinos will leave the ranks of the uninsured because of this historic ruling. That's progress that has a real impact on real people, and so much of that progress is a result of decades of your hard work.
For more than 80 years, LULAC has been a strong and articulate voice for Latinos. You've led our fight for better economic conditions, better education, stronger political influence and increased civil rights. LULAC has taught us to carry out our civic duty and exercise our right to vote.
You've always understood that the strength of our nation is tied to the strength of our growing Latino community. And you know that regardless of where we come from, we are one American family. It's a new day.
We are so fortunate to have a President who not only appreciates your hard work, but who also has the courage to build on it to make this country a fairer, more just place for every Latino in every community in America.
Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security issued a directive which makes it possible for certain young people who were brought to this country through no fault of their own to step out of the shadows, live without fear and continue to pursue their dreams.
This DHS action built on a series of steps the Department has taken to focus our enforcement resources in the right places. I'm proud to serve a President who understands these are deserving young people who are Americans in their hearts, in their minds and should be Americans on paper, too.
Now, let's be clear: This wasn't amnesty or immunity. It was the right thing to do, period. But as the President has made clear, it is temporary, and Congress still needs to act to find a permanent solution and pass the DREAM Act.
For some of us here, this legislation has been the work of our lifetimes. In 1992, as a state Senator in California, I introduced a bill to allow undocumented students greater access to state colleges. For this, I was criticized and insulted. I received threats. I even had eggs thrown at my office.
The bill eventually died, but the fight lived on. We knew that this struggle wasn't just about education or immigration. It was about opportunity and access for Latinos in every sector of our society. So we kept working. We kept growing. We kept building this movement and we kept recruiting powerful allies to our cause.
Back then, one of those allies was a little-known state senator from Illinois. He was a leader who had been speaking out about the injustices of our immigration policy since his days in Chicago. Barack Obama has been leading on this issue for quite some time, and he continues to show that commitment as President.
We continue to face difficult issues. When some of the most anti-immigrant laws in the history of this nation were passed in places like Arizona and Alabama, the Department of Justice challenged the constitutionality of state laws in Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina and Utah that attempted to seize the federal government's authority over immigration policy. And as you know, this week the Supreme Court struck down most of the key provisions of Arizona's anti-immigration law.
At the same time, we remain concerned about the remaining provision of the Arizona law that requires local officials to check the immigration status of anyone they even suspect to be here illegally. Racial profiling must not continue.
While it was heartening that the Court made clear that no one can be detained by local authorities based solely to verify immigration status and that officers may not improperly consider race or national origin we must remain vigilant. The Department of Justice made clear it will vigorously enforce our nation's civil rights laws. But what this decision makes unmistakably clear is that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform. A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system; it's part of the problem.
So while the Supreme Court's decision was, in many ways a vindication, this Administration will continue fighting. Continuamos luchando, siguemos adelante!
We will continue to press Congress on immigration reform, and we will work hard to ensure that this law is enforced in a way that respects the civil rights of every American. We know that waves of immigrants have contributed significantly to America's success. And we know that we need comprehensive, bipartisan reform that meets our economic and security needs especially now, as the economy continues to recover and so many Latinos continue to look for work.
The No. 1 issue in America today is getting our economy back on track and laws like these harm everyone. I went to Alabama to re-enact the historic march from Selma to Montgomery. I know some of you were marching, too. I saw how Alabama's immigration policy was stifling the state's economic growth. Companies were choosing to take their jobs and revenue elsewhere. You could feel the fear and uncertainty.
My department has been out there every day meeting with workers, employers and stakeholders to make sure all of our workers have safe workplaces and are paid the wages they are owed. I can't stress how critical these efforts are in tough economic times, especially for immigrant women.
As Labor Secretary I've done everything in my power to make sure that all workers know that they have rights in this country. In my travels I've met immigrant women who are just trying to provide a better life for themselves and their families. Many face societal challenges that "documented" women face, such as domestic violence, unequal pay, and sexual harassment, which are exponentially worse if they are not documented.
When I hear stories of a fearful woman who's been treated terribly … or when I meet brilliant young girls with beautiful dreams who can't make them come true … it breaks my heart.
I think about my family, about the people who raised me and how much they've meant to my life. Undocumented women struggle to get health care, which can affect their ability to earn wages and their general health. And what's worse: These women often don't speak up because of their fear of being separated from their children and families.
As the daughter of immigrants and certainly as this nation's first Latina Secretary of Labor I feel I have an obligation to make sure no woman ever has to make that choice. We've signed agreements with 10 embassies to provide information and educate vulnerable workers.
We've also launched a campaign to make it easier for vulnerable workers to know their rights in many cases, to let them know they actually have the right to be able to speak up on the job and file complaints. And we've begun the process of certifying U Visas for victims of crimes like trafficking and involuntary servitude. This is especially critical for immigrant women as it will help us go after their abusers and let these women stay here to defend their rights.
America succeeds when women succeed. That's why since the beginning of my career in public service on everything from education to health care to domestic violence prevention to the military and immigration I've highlighted the unique challenges and struggles women face. And I've been proud to stand with women from all walks of life and fight for dignity, fairness and opportunities for a better life.
At the Department of Labor we have been proud to follow the President's lead in making women a top priority. We've continued to fight for equal pay for equal work and to finally close the pay gap. My Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs resolved 134 cases of employment discrimination affecting women and minorities last year. This resulted in over $12 million in remedies for victims of discrimination.
We continue to support working mothers and fight for more flexible workplaces. No woman should ever have to choose between motherhood and a fulfilling career. That's why we clarified provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act to ensure that an employee who takes over caring for a child receives parental rights to family leave regardless of biological relationship. This means if an aunt needs to take in her niece, she can take time off work tend to that child without the fear of losing her job.
Most recently, we proposed rules to further extend the amount of leave members of military families can take to care for wounded service members and veterans without the fear of losing their job. But we're doing even more to support military families and to support female veterans especially.
At my request, we published a new trauma guide offering service providers knowledge on how to modify their practices and better serve the unique needs of female veterans. And we continue to fund job training programs for female veterans and all women to help them find good jobs and get on career pathways that lead to the middle class.
Our efforts to support women are spread across every division in every agency at the Department of Labor, and they're making a difference for Latinas across the country.
We're doing a lot at the Department of Labor and throughout the Administration to address immigration and so many other issues that impact the Latino community and the entire country.
But there's only so much we can do. The real solution lies in Congress's ability to put politics aside and pass comprehensive immigration reform. So this is fight isn't over. We've got to keep the pressure on and the momentum going. The voice that you've built on behalf of the Latino community will be critical to making sure we prevail.
I know we can do it. We've done it before. For generations, from the farm worker movement to the civil rights movement, it has been the strength of our community, our fight for a better life nuestras ganas that has continued to define not only our success as a people but the incredible progress of our nation as whole.
Let's do it again, LULAC. Let's keep going. And let's make sure we leave this generation with a better, fairer and more just America for all. Thank you. Muchisimas gracias. Que dios los bendiga.