Charlie Rose Talks to Hilda Solis
What’s next for you? Will you run for elective office again? Perhaps.
There’s a lot to do. It’s an exciting time, given the four years that have passed and how we put 5.8 million people back to work. When I remember having to report on the unemployment figures at the beginning of my term, the hemorrhaging of jobs. … And now I can say, with all candor, that it has been a wonderful experience to help put people back to work, helping to incentivize new opportunities and revitalizing industries like the automobile industry, manufacturing, and renewable energy.
What’s the lesson you take after surviving the dire situation you faced joining Obama’s cabinet?
It’s still a challenge to try to convince the appropriators how important the urgency of now is. And that means making sure every tool in our toolbox—including support from the House and the Senate—is there because it’s important for all of us to be working together on the same goals. And frankly, that didn’t always happen. The president, in spite of opposition, moved ahead, and that was a lesson to be learned. But the thing that has made the most important impression upon me is the fact that you must remain open to channels of communication at every level. It’s so important to continue dialogue, communication, and outreach.
You’re a believer in America’s manufacturing sector?
I see it as a renaissance, and I just saw it displayed in Detroit again [at the auto show]. Every time I come out to places where they were shuttering factories that are now opening … it’s still something of great pride, emotion, for a lot of us and me in particular. And seeing how we can continue to convey the message that we want businesses to come back here and that we can be a friendly environment.
How do you see the changing role and the contribution that Hispanics are now making in the U.S.?
They’re the fastest-growing population. They’re at 50 million and growing. We still have challenges in terms of seeking higher education, better health care, better-paying jobs, and not being told we can’t do something. When I was growing up, I had a high school counselor who told me I shouldn’t think about college, that I should just be a secretary or an office clerk. And I can proudly say that my title is secre-tary of labor.
You’ve talked to the president about immigration. Tell me about that.
Oh, yes, several times in the last four years. And I’m delighted that he was able to take action [with the Dream Act] and how they are reforming other tools to make it easier for people to access their visas, to reunite with families. And now this whole debate about immigration reform is in the forefront, and he’s made a commitment to do something hopefully in the first year of his second term.
Some critics say he should have done something in his first term.
It wasn’t solely his fault. I was there. I know how hard it was to have members of the Senate, who had previously supported immigration reform and the Dream Act and then turned away and said, ‘I don’t want anything to do with this.’ So it’s unfair to blame the president. Hopefully now, with the election past, the other side of the aisle recognizes the importance and contributions that Hispanics make by bringing them out of the shadows. By having them pay taxes, by getting in line, learning English, they are going to be the engine that helps to spark our recovery for years to come.
There are some loaded words in the political dialogue, like amnesty …
It’s a word we do not use. We use a process of legalization, earned legalization and fairness. And I think in polling that I have seen over time, it shows that the American public is willing to move forward on immigration reform once there’s a process that’s fair, that’s put in place, people pay their back taxes, they get in line, they have no criminal record. There are families right now that send their sons and daughters to fight for us in war. One of the first casualties in my district when I was a congresswoman was a young Marine, 21 years old, who was a green card soldier. All they gave him was posthumous citizenship. And I fought very hard to say that’s not right, we ought to make these people citizens.
After the impact of the Hispanic vote in the election, it’s going to motivate both parties to act.
But something that is fair, that is humane, and that is just. Not just an action that’s some kind of overture, no. Our community is much more sophisticated than people think.