THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
TELEPHONE INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT BY RADIO BILINGUE
Q Is there any message you would like to send to our listeners in Radio Bilingue, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, Samuel, thank you very much. The first and most important message is to implore every person within the sound of my voice to vote on Tuesday, November 3rd. November 3rd is no ordinary Election Day, for on November 3rd we will decide whether, as a nation, we focus on progress or partisanship for the next two years. We will decide the direction our country will take into the new century. And it will be determined, this election, not only by who votes, but by who does not vote.
I have worked very, very hard to focus on matters of importance not only to Hispanics, but to all Americans. When I came into office, we had a troubled economy, a big budget deficit, high crime, and deep partisanship. And over the last six years, the economy has improved, the crime rate is at a 25-year low, we had the first surplus in 29 years, the lowest percentage of people on welfare in 29 years, the lowest unemployment in 28 years. But we're still fighting these partisan battles.
I want very much to have the opportunity to do what America needs. I have a plan for 100,000 teachers and smaller classes and modern schools, a plan for a patients' bill of rights that guarantees the right of people in HMOs to see a specialist when they need one and to have the other medical protections they need, a plan to raise the minimum wage, a plan to save Social Security for the next century. We have to do these things, and so much more.
And I think everyone within the sound of my voice understands that I and the Democrats have been fighting for this, that the Republicans have opposed us on these matters. So what I want to do is to make everyone understand that all the good things that we have done in the last couple of years, we have done in the face of intense opposition.
We got a big Hispanic education action plan passed at the end of this last Congress, because I wouldn't agree to a budget unless we put it in there -- over $500 million to reduce the dropout rate and increase the college-going rate among Hispanics. We got a big initiative to reduce the naturalization backlog to make more citizens more quickly. We're moving forward in a whole range of areas.
But there is so much we will be able to do with a few more Democrats in Congress. And the kind of intense support that can come tomorrow from the Hispanic community can make a difference in California, in Illinois in the Senate race, in House races all across the United States, in New York in the very important race for the Senate there -- many other places. So I believe that this election may well be riding on whether Hispanic Americans vote.
Q One issue very dear to Latino communities in our country, Mr. President, is bilingual education. Proposition 227, approved here in California, seeks to eliminate bilingual education. You have said that being able to speak more than one language is a gift that we all need. What role do you envision for the Spanish language in the U.S. in the next century? And how determined are you to stand by bilingual education?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, as you know, I opposed Proposition 227 because I thought it was artificial. I do think all children, schoolchildren, whose native language is Spanish should become fluent in English and should be able to read, speak, and learn in English. But I believe that during that process it's important to have effective bilingual programs.
I also believe that more and more children whose first language is not Spanish should learn to speak Spanish. I believe that more and more of our school districts, and perhaps even our states, should adopt a requirement that students, in order to get out of high school, should have four years of language and should demonstrate some proficiency in it. In a global economy, that would help us a lot. So I would like to see the bilingual education matter taken out of politics and put back into education.
The truth is that a lot of our children would not have to spend so long in bilingual programs if we had more well-trained bilingual education teachers who could teach the children the subjects they're learning and help them to learn English more quickly. And I think we ought to focus on the problem instead of turning it into a political football.
Q A final question, Mr. President. You have said that immigration is not only good for America, it is America. You have also enthusiastically supported the North America Free Trade Agreement, an agreement which is supposed to erase borders and bring friends together. However, the Mexico-U.S. border is becoming a costly, dangerous, and fortified wall. What are you doing to create a friendlier border with Mexico?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we're trying to work with the Mexican government more on economic and environmental projects and on building up the economy on both sides of the border so there will be less danger of drug trafficking and more possibilities for commerce that benefit both sides. The Mexican government has begun to work with us more closely to deal with narco-trafficking, because it's a big problem in Mexico as well as the U.S..
But we can't just have a negative approach. We also have to finance more economic projects and more environmental projects along the border and make sure the border operates more smoothly. And that's what I have worked hard to do.
I think that if we can keep this global financial crisis from reaching Mexico and the rest of Latin America, that we will see over the next five years a marked improvement in our relationships with Mexico, a marked improvement in the Mexican economy, a smaller problem with illegal immigration, and more joint action on drug trafficking. And that is my goal.
Q Mr. President, tomorrow is Election Day. Many Latinos will vote for the first time, and they make good voters. But many hesitate because they don't believe in politicos. They don't believe in the promises of the politicians. What message would you have as a final message for Latino voters?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think you can look at the promises I have made to the American people, including Latinos, over the last six years, and you can look at how many jobs have been created, how much welfare has gone down, how much unemployment has gone down, how much crime has gone down. You can look at my record on immigration. You can look at my record on appointing Hispanics to key positions in my administration. You can look at my record in fighting AIDS in the Hispanic community, and my record in trying to fight for this education initiative to improve the educational prospects of young Latinos. And you can look at my record in fighting for a fair census that counts all Americans.
So I'm not just a politician making promises. I have a record. I have done what I said I would do, and it has been good for the Latino community in America.
And if you look ahead, basically if you want smaller classes, more teachers, and modern schools, and you want the national government to help, then you only have one choice, because the Democrats and I are for it, the Republicans are opposed to our initiative.
If you want a raise in the minimum wage, we're for it and they're opposed to it. If you want to protect patients that are in managed care plans and give them the right they need to see specialists and to keep treatment going, we're for it and they're opposed to it. If you want to see the surplus we have protected to save Social Security for the elderly, long-term, and to protect the integrity of Medicare, then you should support us. If you want more done on child care to support working families with young children, we have an initiative; they're opposed to it.
So I would say, based on our record and the clear differences between parties, it is very much worth going out to vote. And if you don't vote, the consequences of not voting are that in the next two years the Congress will spend their time and money the same they have in the last year, which is basically fighting inside- Washington political games, trying to gain political advantage through investigations and other things, instead of doing the people's business.
So I would say there's a clear case for voting and a clear case for voting for the Democrats for Congress and Senate tomorrow. And I hope that everyone within the sound of my voice will do so.
Willie Velazquez spent his life at the Southwest Voter Education Project saying "Su voto es su voz." And it's really true, and more true now than ever before.
Q Mr. President, on behalf of Radio Bilingue, thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Samuel. Good-bye.