WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama celebrated the contributions of Hispanic Americans Thursday at a Cinco de Mayo reception in the White House Rose Garden, where he told guests that passing the Dream Act and "fixing our broken immigration system" were top priorities.
The president's remarks at the annual event were sprinkled with Spanish phrases, and imbued with a fervor that's to be expected in an election year in which both parties' presumptive candidates acknowledge the crucial role Latino voters will play in tipping the electoral balance in states like Florida and Arizona.
Obama also lauded the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, saying that since the original battle in 1862, commemorated on Cinco de Mayo, "the United States and Mexico have lived intersecting and overlapping histories. Our two countries share the ties of history and familia and values and commerce and culture. And today, we are more united than ever -- in friendship and in common purpose," he said.
"Right now, there are more than 50 million Americans of Latino descent -- one-sixth of our population. You’re our neighbors, our co-workers, our family, our friends. You’re starting businesses. You’re teaching in classrooms. You’re defending this country. You’re driving America forward."
The remarks come against a backdrop of disappointment by many Latinos over the president's failure to enact the sweeping immigration reform he promised during his 2008 campaign. This disappointment was compounded by the Senate's failure to pass the Dream Act, which would have granted pathways to citizenship for undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents.
"I want to sign the Dream Act into law," said the president. "I’ve got the pens all ready, and I’m willing to work with anybody who is serious … to achieve bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform that solves this challenge once and for all."
Guests at the event included Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhán, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, and Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas), chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Obama closed his remarks with an appeal to the heritage of Mexico and the U.S., saying, "America is and always will be a nation of immigrants. We are richer because of the men and women and children who have come to our shores and joined our union. So as we mark Cinco de Mayo, on both sides of the border, we pay tribute to our shared heritage and our future partnership."