WASHINGTON D.C. -- Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today accepted the 2013 Capital Award from the National Council of La Raza.
The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) - the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States - works to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans. The NCLR Capital Awards is the only Hispanic event that recognizes leaders from both sides of the aisle for their outstanding support of public policies that are vital to Hispanic Americans.
Other awardees included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, journalist and immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas and the advocacy organization United We Dream.
Below are Attorney General Harris’ prepared remarks:
National Council of La Raza 2013 Capital Award Gala
Remarks of California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris
As Prepared for Delivery on March 5, 2013
Thank You. I'm very happy to join you here tonight. Together, we have arrived at a place where we can look back on bold successes once considered improbable - and look ahead to some historic triumphs once considered impossible.
I want to congratulate Jose Antonio Vargas, United We Dream, Jim Avila, and Mayor Bloomberg for your well-deserved recognition tonight.
And it’s always an honor to stand with my friends at the National Council of La Raza. Good things happen when we stand together.
Over the past two years, we stood together in boardrooms and courtrooms to ensure that there would be justice for homeowners who were harmed in the foreclosure crisis. Together, we brought over $18 billion back to California homeowners and billions more for homeowners across the nation.
Together, we passed the toughest foreclosure prevention and mortgage industry reforms in the country. We called it the California Homeowner Bill of Rights. It couldn’t have happened without NCLR and I want to thank Janet Murgia for your bold leadership.
Together, we won a major victory for the hardworking families of our country. And we can’t stop now because all of us in this room know that this is a critical moment. The wheels of justice sometimes move slowly but they only move at all when folks like us - in this room - help those wheels turn.
In fact, Coretta Scott King said it best: “Freedom is never really won - you have to earn it and win it in each generation.” That’s what our parents’ and grandparents’ generation did when they marched for justice, equality and fairness.
That’s what Rosa Parks did when she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery. That generation lived in a time when the scales tilted heavily toward prejudice and injustice. Yet, they stood up when standing down would have been easier and their sacrifice now lights the path to our destiny.
Just think about it: Last week, after 60 years, they put a statue of Rosa Parks in Statuary Hall. And, there, Mrs. Parks stands alongside George Washington and Samuel Adams in a hall reserved for the great founders of our nation.
So, we know how much things can change. We know we’ve come a long way and we know that we’re not there yet. The defining challenge for this generation is immigration reform. And, as the chief law enforcement officer for the largest state in the union, I see immigration reform - first and foremost - as an issue of justice.
And as a career prosecutor, I will suggest to you that it directly relates to public safety.
As many of you know, I started my career in the D.A.’s office that Earl Warren helped build - the Alameda Co. District Attorney’s Office - and I’ve personally prosecuted everything from robbery to homicide.
I strongly believe that if we are truly going to achieve public safety, we can’t give in to the false choice that proposes you’re either “tough on crime” or “soft on crime” No, we need to be “smart on crime.”
That’s why, when I was asked by CA Police Chiefs and Sheriffs whether they had to go along with the flawed Secure Communities program, I said “No.” Why did I say that? Well, for starters, it’s the law. Two: in California, the program wasn’t serving its intended purpose. As we monitored it, we found that most of the people detained under the Secure Communities program had no criminal records.
And, putting aside Secure Communities, I know from experience having worked with immigrant victims of crime that we all lose when we force people into the shadows, making them afraid to seek justice. Forcing people into the shadows makes good people vulnerable and voiceless, and predators more bold and more powerful.
We all lose when a victim of crime is convinced by the predator that, if she reports it, it is she who will be treated like a criminal.
I come to this perspective, not only as a career prosecutor, but having taken the oath of office as the Attorney General of California - an oath in which I promised to ensure that every community receives protection - in a state where nearly half of all residents are foreign-born or have a parent who is.
Raise your hand if you can relate - I can relate.
Our country is full of people working two or three jobs, scrimping and saving, caring for their families and their neighbors. And they want a path. So, this is the time to shut down the hedge-maze of dead-ends and broken-dreams. This is the time to open up a bright pathway to opportunity and citizenship.
And, let’s be clear, I don’t mean second-class citizenship, I mean first-rate citizenship.
It’s the time for the dreamers and those who have been dreaming for a long time, those who may have come to this great country with pockets empty but hearts full of hope.
And, so, I'm proud to stand with NCLR - and with our President, Barack Obama - to say that the time is now for comprehensive immigration reform.
And working together, I am confident we will win it in this generation.