Senate passes immigration reform bill; Rubio invokes parents and American exceptionalism in closing pitchby George Bennett | June 27th, 2013
The Senate has voted 68-to-32 to pass an immigration reform bill drawn up by a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that included Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who in an emotional closing argument told the tale of his Cuban-born parents and their assimilation into America.
Rubio spoke of his mother’s sorrow at John F. Kennedy‘s assassination in 1963 and her pride at the moon landing in 1969 — events that took place before she and Rubio’s late father were naturalized as U.S. citizens.
“Well before they ever became citizens, in their hearts, they had already become Americans,” said Rubio, his voice cracking. “It reminds us sometimes that we focus so much on how immigrants could change America that we forget that America has always changed immigrants even more.”
The bill has drawn fierce opposition from many conservatives and tea party activists who helped Rubio get elected in 2010 and will be crucial if he pursues the presidency in 2016. Rubio echoed the American exceptionalism theme of his 2010 stump speech as well as the Sermon On The Mount/John Winthrop/Ronald Reagan city-on-a-hill metaphor that resonates on the right.
“From a collection of people from everywhere, we became one people — the most exceptional nation in all of human history. And even with all our challenges, we remain that shining city on a hill. We are still the hope of the world,” Rubio said.
Rubio said he supports the legislation “not just because I believe in immigrants, but because I believe in America even more.”
Read the complete text after the jump…
Text of Sen. Marco Rubio’s remarks on immigration reform as prepared for delivery:
My father had a rough childhood. His mother died just four days shy of his ninth birthday. The small catering business his parents had run together had collapsed, and so as a young child he had to leave school and work. He would work for virtually 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 a security guard. He actually lived and slept in the storage room of the store.
Like all young couples, they had dreams. My mother wanted to be an actress. My father tried hard to get ahead. After work he took a correspondence course 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.
And 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 wasn’t easy in America either. My father had someone phonetically write on a small piece of paper the words: “I am looking for work.” He memorized those words. They were literally some of 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 up some businesses. When that didn’t work, they tried Los Angeles and Las Vegas. But that also didn’t work, and he found himself back on Miami Beach behind a bar.
They were discouraged. They were 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, as communism took root in Havana, that became impossible too.
I am sure that on their worst days, they wondered if things would ever get better. And then the miracle we know as America began to change their lives.
By 1967, they had saved enough money to buy a house. It was within walking distance of the Orange Bowl where on Sunday they made a little extra money letting fans park on their lawn. My older sister was in ballet. My older brother the star quarterback for Miami High.
But it wasn’t just their lives that changed, it was also their hearts.
They still spoke Spanish at home. They still kept the customs they brought from Cuba. But with each passing year, this country became their own.
My mother recalls how she wept on that terrible November day in 1963, at the news that her President had been slain. How on that magical night in 1969, they watched an American walk on the moon and realized that now, nothing was impossible.
Because well before they became citizens, in their hearts they had already become Americans.
It reminds us that sometimes, we focus so much on how immigrants could change America, that we forget that America changes immigrants even more.
This is not just my story. This is our story. It reminds us that we are “E Pluribus Unum.” “Out Of Many, One.”
No one should dispute that, like every sovereign nation, we have a right to control who comes in. But unlike other countries, we are not afraid of people coming in from other places. Instead, inspired by our Judeo-Christian principles we Americans have seen the stranger, and invited them in.
And our nation has been blessed for it, in ways that remind us of the 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 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 evidence that God’s hand is upon our land. Who among us would dispute that we are a blessed people?
In the harbor of our most famous city, there is a statue of a woman holding a lamp. At the base of that statue is a poem which says:
“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 two hundred years now, they have come. In search of liberty and freedom, for sure. But often simply looking for jobs to feed their kids and the chance of 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, made them ours as well. From a collection of people from everywhere, we became one people. The most exceptional nation in human history.
And even with all our challenges, we remain the shining city on the hill. We are still the hope of the world.
Go to our factories and fields. Go to our kitchens and construction sites. Go to the cafeteria of this very Capitol. There, you will find that the miracle of America still lives.
For here, in America, those who once had no hope, will give their children the life they once wanted for themselves.
Here, in America, generations of unfulfilled dreams will finally come to pass.
I support this reform.
Not just because I believe in immigrants, but because I believe in America even more.