HUD Archives: News Releases

HUD No. 01-065
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For Release
July 10, 2001


en español

NEW YORK - U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez accompanied President Bush to a naturalization ceremony at Ellis Island today, prompting him to recall his own immigration to the United States and call the country that gave him and his family shelter "a beacon for so many people around the world."

Martinez said the swearing-in of new citizens at what was the historic gateway to America for 12 million immigrants reminded him of "what America means to me." In 1962, Martinez and more than 14,000 other children fled Cuba in a clandestine faith-based humanitarian effort called Operation Pedro Pan. Just 15 years old, Martinez left his family and everything behind for the promise of freedom in the U.S.

"When people ask me today why America continues to be a beacon for so many people around the world, I answer in just two words: freedom and opportunity," Martinez told reporters following the ceremony.

"The temporary protective status afforded immigrants from Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador illustrates that this administration is firmly committed to building and maintaining an immigration system that is accurate, respectful and ensures integrity," said Martinez.

Martinez noted the beauty of America is that nobody is born to his or her position; they rise to it through hard work, by taking advantage of the same opportunities that are provided to every other citizen.

"My parents came to this country penniless, with just three changes of clothes. My mother wasn't even allowed to leave Cuba with her wedding ring. But with the help of a Federal Housing Administration-backed mortgage, they finally achieved the 'American Dream' that so many immigrants speak about. Maybe that explains why I'm so passionate to this day about giving more families the opportunity to know how it feels to own their own home."

"We are truly a nation of immigrants," the HUD Secretary said. "And our rich diversity is a product of our immigration policies. The President is mindful of the important role that immigrants have played, and is fully committed to building and maintaining an immigration system that is responsive to those who seek to immigrate by legal means."

The foreign-born population of the U.S. stands at about 27 million, roughly 10 percent of the population.



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