Vice President Joe Biden emphasized the importance of immigrants to the U.S. economy during his graduation speech at Miami Dade College on Saturday, urging reforms to put undocumented residents on a path to citizenship.
The veep told the students, faculty, and families assembled at the South Florida college that a "constant, substantial stream of immigrants” is crucial to the U.S. economy, reports the Associated Press.
"That's why we have to act to bring 11 million people out of the shadows and put them on a path to citizenship," Biden said. "These people are already Americans."
Of the 2,000-person crowd, Biden noted that many were immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, many from South America and the Caribbean. Those gathered showed off their national pride with a procession of 39 flags from their home countries.
"More than half of you speak a language other than English at home, but you speak the language of America," Biden said.
Biden praised the Florida Legislature for becoming the 20th state to pass a measure allowing undocumented residents to pay in-state tuition at public colleges.
Andy Alfonso, a graduate who has been accepted to Harvard University med school and plans to practice neuroscience in developing countries, said Biden’s speech struck a chord.
“It was very emotional for me because he touched a lot of points that I believed in and that I continue to believe in,” Alfonso told the Miami Herald. The newly minted graduate has been accepted to Harvard University and is waiting for confirmation from Johns Hopkins University.
Alfonso came to the U.S. from Cuba three and a half years ago. His father was in the Miami Dade audience, but his mother was waiting to see the video of the ceremony back in Cuba.
“This day is, I mean, it’s such a success not only for me, but for my family because they’re so supportive of me — and not only this family here, my family back in Cuba," Alfonso said.
One person in the crowd yelled "Stop deportations!" during Biden’s remarks.
"We'll do that, too, kid, but let me finish my speech,” he replied.