WASHINGTON, D.C. – This morning, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) addressed the Committee of 100 22nd Annual Common Ground Conference. The text of his speech, as prepared for delivery, appears below:
Good morning and thank you Richard for that nice welcome. It is a pleasure to be with you here today.
One of America’s greatest strengths has always been the diversity of its people and the contributions to our nation’s advancement by Chinese Americans have been invaluable. From the many successful achievements in business, academia and medicine, Chinese Americans have been vital to our nation’s success.
Since this country’s founding, America has continually been a work in progress. We have not always gotten things right. From the beginning we’ve had many flaws and made many mistakes.
An important step when growing however is having the ability to look back, recognize and learn from those mistakes.
In our history, some of our darkest times have come from the way we’ve treated the newest Americans. As you know all too well, many of those moments came with legislation passed by Congress to specifically target and punish Chinese immigrants.
Knowing this history, I felt proud as a member of Congress to stand with you last June and support a resolution expressing regret for the Chinese Exclusion Act.
In so many countries around the world, children are often consigned to live the same life their parents had, but not here. In America, hope and opportunity for a better future can exist for all.
Like many of you, my grandparents came to America seeking a better life. They fled the violent anti-semitic pogroms of the czars of Russia to come to the United States. Widowed at a young age, my grandmother raised my father and uncle in a tiny apartment atop a grocery store that she and my grandfather opened upon their arrival here in America.
With little more than faith, thrift and a belief in the American Dream, my grandmother worked seven days a week to ensure that her two sons could realize the promise and hope of this great country. It was very difficult at times but her hope remained strong and her belief in America never wavered.
Today, my family stands as proof of the possibility to what once may have seemed like an impossible dream to my grandmother.
Those of us privileged enough to serve in public office have a responsibility to ensure that America remains a land of opportunity for everyone. The American Dream should not be a reachable goal for only a select few, but for all who seek to attain it.
Recently, I was introduced to a young lady named Fiona Zhou. Fiona is currently earning her Master’s Degree at George Washington University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. Originally from China, Fiona has been in the United States for five years, studying operations research in the systems engineering department.
Fiona would like to stay after she graduates and invest her talents here in America. She may even like to start her own company. Sadly, Fiona has seen many of her friends with advanced degrees return to their home countries instead of staying here to pursue their dreams, and she may suffer the same fate.
This is the result of not having enough visa slots in our immigration system that would permit students to stay. Each year our colleges and universities graduate approximately 40,000 foreign nationals with Masters Degrees and PhD’s, but many are forced to leave the country.
As a result, these students go and produce somewhere else instead of inventing, creating or starting their own businesses here in America. This has got to stop and we in the House have the right solution.
Last year we passed the bipartisan STEM Jobs Act. We will act on this issue again and we hope the Senate chooses to join us this time. With this resolution, Fiona and others like her can realize their dreams and America will continue its role as a country of boundless opportunity for those looking to build a bright future.
On a recent trip to New Orleans, I met a young woman named Essence Jackson. Last year, her daughter Ma’loni, attended pre-kindergarten at a public school. Midway through the year, Ma’loni’s teacher approached Essence and told her that her daughter was not getting the education she needed at the school. Ma’loni was too bright and she needed an environment where she could thrive.
Ma’loni’s teacher then informed Essence of the Louisiana Scholarship Program. This program could provide funding that would allow Ma’loni a way out of the failing school and into a school of her choice; one that would offer her a real avenue to advancement and a high quality education.
Ma’loni now attends kindergarten at a Catholic elementary school as a participant in the Louisiana Scholarship Program and is thriving there. Essence couldn’t be happier now that her daughter is in a school where she has an opportunity to succeed.
Unfortunately, the Louisiana Supreme Court is considering a challenge to this scholarship program that could prevent Ma’loni from attending her new school. Essence is hoping they throw the case out and confided in me that she would do anything to keep her daughter in private school, even if it meant working three part time jobs.
Education reform and fixing our schools are no longer an option. We have got to get this done. We have to fight for people like Essence Jackson who simply want to see their child in a safe and productive learning environment.
We should allow education dollars to follow the child and give parents the option of sending their children to public, private or charter schools. Giving parents and students the opportunity to choose a school best for them gives them the best opportunity for future success.
America will continue to grow and we will continue to make mistakes. But we need to make sure, that we don’t repeat the mistakes of our past. We must embrace our diversity and continually work to make America a more perfect union.
Outside my office in the Capitol is a statue of Hannibal Hamlin. Hamlin served as a Senator from the state of Maine and was an opponent of the Chinese exclusion laws. He publicly declared that his vote against the 1879 Fifteen Passenger bill would be a legacy to his children and hoped that they might deem it the brightest act of his life.
Now Hamlin was an accomplished individual. He was an ambassador, Member of the House, Governor of his state, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Vice President of the United States under Abraham Lincoln. But for all he accomplished he considered his standing on principle against the Chinese exclusion bill, even though he lost, the brightest act of his life.
Perhaps it is not just a coincidence that a man who stood so steadfast for the principles of our founding: for equality, hope and opportunity died – like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams before him – on Independence Day.
Today, it is up to us to pick up the torch and fight to make sure that students like Fiona can pursue their dreams here in America. We must fight so that working moms like Essence Jackson don’t have to worry about their children being trapped in a failing school. We must fight to make life work for the American people so that this country remains a land of opportunity in the future for all.
Thank you so much for having me today. It has been an honor to speak to you.