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The White House, President George W. Bush

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 9, 2004

Remarks by the President in a Conversation on the Economy with Women Small Business Owners
U.S. Department of Commerce
Washington, D.C.

10:45 A.M. EST

[ ... ]

Let me call upon Maria Coakley David. She is the CFO of CJ Coakley, Inc., right here in Falls Church, Virginia. Thanks for coming, Maria. And thank you for the hat.

* * * *

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me talk about job hiring, particularly in the construction field. It's very important for these companies to understand who they're hiring. I'm excited about the fact that you're expanding your job base. I just want to make sure that you stay legal in your hiring practice. And we've got a problem here --

MS. COAKLEY DAVID: It's a big concern, as well, for us, and I appreciate you bringing that up.

THE PRESIDENT: It's got to be a big concern. Well, I'm talking about this immigration issue that I brought up. My attitude is, any time an employer can't find an American worker to do the job, that in this case she ought to be able to hire a willing foreign worker, so long as that foreign worker has got a -- what -- we're going to issue, a new card, a temporary worker card.

I don't like the idea of having an undocumented economy in the greatest country on the face of the Earth, where people walk miles across deserts at the hands of sometimes these coyote border smugglers who treat these people inhumanely; they get into our society, they're doing work, but they're doing work in an undocumented way, not above-board, but below the surface. They can get exploited and have no recourse. And it's just flat wrong in America. And we ought to recognize the system hasn't worked.

And so I proposed a plan that is a worker plan. It is not an automatic path to citizenship, what they call amnesty. It is a plan that recognizes reality in a common-sense way, so that when Maria's company starts expanding, and she can't find somebody to lay tar on a hot August day, and somebody else wants to, because they've got a family to feed, she can find this person, and the person will show up to work. And by the way, that person ought to be able to go back to his or her family without being harassed, to be able to take money home, which is what they're trying to do.

So this is a common-sense plan. It makes eminent sense. It recognizes the reality of today's workplace. We want our employers to be aggressive at hiring people, but we don't want them breaking the law. And we've got to recognize, in this society, there are just simply some jobs that are not being filled by American citizens.

MS. COAKLEY DAVID: You're correct, and it is definitely a big concern for our company. We probably have 70 percent Hispanic work force. We've recently hired a bilingual receptionist to help us communicate effectively. We have a lot of our newsletters translated in Spanish. And we do have to face the facts. And we would greatly benefit from your plan.

THE PRESIDENT: This is important. The other thing what she's faced with -- first of all, the fact that you've got an Hispanic work force means you're doing well. These are fine people, we know well in Texas. They're great people. Great people.

But there's a lot of false documentation. What kind of society is it where the system allows for false documentation, falsifying these different papers so Maria is not sure whether or not she's dealing with somebody she ought to be dealing with. We need to make this above-board. And by the way, it is humane to treat people with respect, citizen or not citizen. We want to treat people with the utmost respect in this country. This is America. It's the greatest country on the face of the Earth. We're not giving special privilege. They don't get to but in line where somebody who wants to go through the process in a legal way. We're just recognizing reality in a common-sensical way. It's the right thing to do. (Applause.)

* * * *

THE PRESIDENT: One of the most meaningful things that's happened to me since I've been the governor -- the President -- governor -- President. (Laughter.) Oops. (Laughter.) Ex-governor. I went to Bethesda Naval Hospital to give a fellow a Purple Heart, and at the same moment I watched him -- get a Purple Heart for action in Iraq -- and at that same -- right after I gave him the Purple Heart, he was sworn in as a citizen of the United States -- a Mexican citizen, now a United States citizen.

It's a pretty special country, isn't it, where people are willing to come not only to work to provide for their families, but to wear this nation's uniforms and to go into harm's way for our peace and security. And Americans have got to recognize how special America is, and how lucky we are to be Americans in this country, and how a lot of really decent people would like to join us. We've just got to make sure the system is orderly and fair and meets national objectives.

Lurita. Lurita Doan is with us. She is the president and CEO of New Technology Management, in Reston, Virginia. Welcome.

* * * *

THE PRESIDENT: I'm here to thank you all. I think the -- I hope you come away with the same sense of optimism I do about the future of this country when you hear these five women speak. I mean, this is a country which speaks to five entrepreneurs here on the stage and says, dream big and go for it; live your dream. Can you imagine a country where a woman like Lurita walks in to Kinko's and says, I think I'll start a business by printing my first business card. And here she is, 13 years later, speaking to the nation about a business which is thriving, and is going to hire 75 new people.

It's a fabulous country, where people can dream big dreams and people can risk, take risk and achieve their dreams through hard work, clear vision and a good idea. It's hard to be a small business owner, particularly in hard times. It's easier when the whole economy is growing, but it's even hard then. It's hard to make the right decisions. But, obviously, I'm surrounded by success, people who have been able to realize their dreams and accomplish what is not easy to accomplish.

Government can help, but we can't make these women smart; we can't make them dream; we can't make them compassionate. These are choices they've made. And our job is to stand with them and to serve as a wind at their back as they provide not only valuable goods and services, but, more importantly for me right now, and for the country, is to provide a chance for somebody to find work -- find work so they can fulfill their obligations as a mom or a dad.

I want to thank you all for joining us. Thank you for being great Americans. I appreciate you helping me to explain how our economy works and why we should be optimistic about our future. May God bless your endeavors and God bless you all. May God continue to bless our great country. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 11:17 A.M. EST

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