This past week our nation made real progress towards important immigration reform as the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill. The plan, which now goes to the house, outlines both a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and increased border security that helps make us safer. In this context, I felt it was important to write briefly on immigration this week, as our nation celebrates its 237th birthday.
Immigration is the essential element behind the foundation of our nation. Winding, knotty, shining through a spectrum of shades, we are a nation of immigrants. On July 4th, 1776, most Americans had substantial roots in countries across the globe. What resulted was one of the world’s most ingenious, industrialized and economically prosperous countries in the history of the world, forever raising the bar for the quality of human life. America’s diversity also laid the important framework for tolerance, essential freedoms and human rights. If we are to continue to thrive, we need to embrace immigration like we did in 1776. We must value our diversity and our history as an asset and continue to renew its future and become a “more perfect union”.
Also, If we are to truly become an even greater international city, the City of Philadelphia must embrace new Americans once again. As 2010 census data shows, Philadelphia’s population is growing for the first time in decades, largely due to a growing international population. Over 21% of Philadelphia do not speak English as their first language. The City is adapting accordingly, this past March, Mayor Nutter established the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs to help support our newest Philadelphians; our language access program has been recognized nationally, now, the Philly311 Mobile App translates to 16 different languages making city services more available and we have formed important partnerships with the Welcoming Center and other stakeholders. Philadelphia is one of the country’s great multicultural cities. We have embraced immigration, and we continue to grow. This is not a coincidence – it is in our DNA.
In the spirit of Independence Day and our great history, I would like to share with you a speech I gave at a Naturalization Ceremony in the United States District Court, before I was Managing Director. If you have never witnessed the faces of our newest citizens as they become Americans, I strongly recommend you attend one of these inspirational ceremonies. Although this speech was given in 2009, it is still relevant today. I am proud to say that our government reflects the rich diversity of our great city. That variety of experience and thought is one or our greatest strengths. It should be in your workplace as well. Please share as you wish and Happy Independence Day.
“FAITH & COURAGE”
Richard Negrin, Esq.
United States District Court February 19, 2009
For the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
First, I would like to welcome all of you to the great City of Philadelphia, a city rich in American history, a city that so many years ago bore witness to the birth of principles and ideals that have made this country a great nation. I commend you for your decision to become Americans here in Philadelphia.
I would also like to thank his honor, Judge Juan Sanchez, for inviting me to speak at this magnificent ceremony. It is truly an honor to address you and share in your experience as you become new Americans. It is truly a pleasure to see the joy on your faces as you take this noble step to citizenship.
When describing America, President James Madison proclaimed with great pride that “We are a nation of immigrants.” Recognizing that immigrants were our greatest strength, he wrote that the immigrant “must incorporate himself into our society” not necessarily into our popular culture, into our food, clothes or music, but into our most cherished principles of equality and liberty.
You are taking that step today. A noble step. A step of Faith & Courage.
There is a great deal of debate in our nation over immigration today. However, amongst all the important talk of undocumented workers and border security, there is a story that is not being told. There are two facets and characteristics of immigration that have been drowned out amongst all the noise.
Those are Faith & Courage. The Faith & Courage to leave everything you know and come to a foreign land. The Faith & Courage that immigrants possess and infuse into our society everyday.
The Faith that America works. The Faith in the promise of America’s opportunity. The Courage to risk life and limb for its many blessings, its precious liberties and limitless opportunities.
I have witnessed this in my personal life.
It took Faith & Courage for my father, as a young man (and rumor has it disguised as a priest with false papers) to flee Communist Cuba in search of a better life and political freedom. It took Faith & Courage for him to risk his life and start fresh so that one day his future children—me and my sister—might know liberty and opportunity.
It took Faith & Courage for my grandmother to flee communism, leaving all material belongings behind, with all her children but one. Forced to leave her only son behind for six months so that the Castro government could confirm that they had given everything up and not secreted away any money.
It took Faith & Courage for my grandmother to start a new life without any material possessions, in a new land, with a new language. However, she had something to offer.
She possessed the kind of optimism that only the promise of America can take full advantage of. She was an expert seamstress and worked in a sewing factory for many years. Today, almost 50 years later, she still bares the scars of that effort on her hands. Hands that helped to continuously build America.
It took Faith & Courage for a 13 year old boy to flee poverty in Puerto Rico, to get on an airplane, with a single mom and only a few possessions, so that he might have a better education and opportunity.
It took Faith & Courage for that young man to work hard, to study, and to one day rise to the honor of becoming a Federal Judge. That is the story of Judge Sanchez.
A story of a young man in a housing project in the Bronx, unable to speak the language, but a fast learner and a tireless worker. Able to avoid the trappings of gangs and drugs to rise to a better station in life for him and his family. His is truly a great American story.
And now it is your turn.
As a nation, we find ourselves in precarious times. A global economy in crisis. Two lengthy and costly wars abroad. Terrorism and threats against America both foreign and domestic.
We desperately need the Faith & Courage that you have to offer. I believe America must repeatedly rejuvenate its spirit in times like these. An infusion of our highest ideals. Yes, from within but also from the outside as well. That is how we will continue to be a great nation.
I have heard it said that at the height of Ancient Rome a Roman citizen could wander the civilized world without fear of molestation or persecution because of the might and respect of Rome. That should be true of Americans today.
Two hundred years ago, at the Constitutional Convention here in Philadelphia, Governor Morris of New York said:
I anticipate the day when to command respect in the remotest regions it will be sufficient to just say I am an American. Our flag shall then wave in glory over the ocean and our commerce feel no restraint but what our government may impose.
Two hundred years later, we still aspire to that goal. And we need your help to achieve it! Only your Faith & Courage can see us there.
Now, I will not deceive you. As a nation, we are not perfect. There are those that would not welcome you with open arms. Those who purport to love America but fail to accept all Americans. Those who mistakenly see you as a threat and not as a strength. Those that fear change.
I submit that it has always been so. At every time in our nation’s history there have been those that cannot see ahead, those who doubt, those who prefer the status quo, those who fail to embrace new Americans.
For these people, I ask that you add Patience & Tolerance to your Faith & Courage. This is a glorious nation and time has always remedied our mistakes.
When our Founding Fathers, just a few short blocks away, first said, “All men are created equal” that did not include women or minorities. But it does today. Time has remedied that wrong.
Today, America’s leader, our President, is a man of diverse cultures and background. Today, immigrants serve at the highest levels of our government and our judicial system. They are doctors, lawyers, police officers, teachers and the much needed workers that will drive our economy once again. Today, in the gritty hands of an honest day’s work—still lives the promise of America.
Our present challenges are no different then those of the past. They will bend to the noble principles that are America. They cannot stand against an idea whose time has come. An idea of liberty and opportunity that lives within all of us.
In a few months, we will celebrate America’s birthday and our independence. The 4th of July will bring parades, music, fireworks and much celebration.
You will celebrate this day as Americans for the first time. Bringing your Faith & Courage for a better life into our community.
As you celebrate, as you look at the bright shining lights of the fireworks, you should never forget that it is YOU, and the Faith & Courage that SHINES within each of you, that is the TRUE celebration of America.
God bless you & God bless America.
Rich Negrin is the City of Philadelphia’s Managing Director and Deputy Mayor for Administration and Coordination. Service Centered Leadership is the Managing Director’s blog series appearing on PhillyInnovates. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichNegrin.