Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, June 21, 2013 | 5:29 p.m.
Vice President Joe Biden touted immigration reform as he addressed hundreds of the nation’s mayors gathered for a conference in Las Vegas.
Following a speech Thursday night at a meeting of the League of United Latin American Citizens, Biden tailored a message for mayors from cities in 38 states who are gathered at Mandalay Bay for the four-day annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“Immigration reform is going to have a profound and positive impact on our cities,” Biden said. “If you bring people out of the shadows and you give them a start, they add to the tax base. They start investing in their communities where they live, and they begin to lay down roots.”
Biden addressed the mayors as members of Congress in their home states consider whether to vote for a comprehensive immigration bill that would establish a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally.
He told mayors that America needs a “tough but clear” way for people to gain citizenship.
In a country whose immigrants are its “single distinguishing feature from any other country in the world,” he said it’s important to remember the role of immigration in building America’s cities.
Beyond listing the positive tenets of immigration, the vice president also decried “xenophobic” comments surrounding the immigration debate and told the crowd how his Irish Catholic descendants faced discrimination when they moved to the Northeast hundreds of years ago.
In a theme that ran throughout his speech, he reminded mayors that newly arrived immigrants often start small businesses and create jobs in cities.
He repeatedly stressed that cities are the engines of the economy that will lead the United States in job creation.
Emboldened by an increasingly buoyant national housing market, Biden's tone rose to its most strident when he spoke of middle-class jobs.
“My dad would say ‘Joey, you know a job is about a lot more than a paycheck,’” he said. “It's about your dignity. It's about your self-respect. It's about your place in your community. It's about having a shot at being in the middle class.”
In making his third consecutive appearance at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Biden peppered his 30-minute speech with such personal anecdotes and broke from his prepared remarks to recount friendly stories about some of the nearly 200 mayors in attendance.
He called many by their first names and reminded both Democratic and Republican mayors that the Obama administration had sent billions of dollars to cities during the Great Recession. The cities, in turn, used that money to great effect, he said.
“The cities are leading the way,” he said. “I'm not being nice to you all. I'm not being polite. The fact of the matter is, the cities are leading the way.”
The admiration appeared to be mutual. Biden received warm applause when he mentioned federal money that the Obama administration sent to cities for programs such as neighborhood stabilization, retention of police officers and transportation.
The audience again clapped when Biden told mayors that he and the president “won’t back down” in pressuring Congress to reconsider legislation to mandate private party background checks for gun sales. Legislation to accomplish this failed to pass the Senate this year.
The crowd also applauded as Biden addressed middle-class jobs and investment in transportation infrastructure.
Local mayors in attendance largely agreed with Biden’s agenda for cities.
Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen said background checks for gun sales would “have a great impact on cities and the nation.”
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said she rode with Biden to the airport the last time he was in Las Vegas, and she’s confident that the vice president “really gets a sense of what’s going on here.”
“In this city and our community, we’re very much about giving people a proper pathway to citizenship,” she said of Biden’s comments about pending immigration legislation in the U.S. Senate.
Biden heaped praise on Goodman, who is also host of the mayors’ conference, saying that “Carolyn is my mother while I’m here.”
Beyond praising the conference host, Biden noted early in his speech that he’d talked to hundreds of mayors multiple times and reminded the audience that “we are an urban administration.”
Indeed, President Barack Obama's is largely an urban-backed administration. City voters across the nation were largely responsible for his re-election in 2012.
Biden closed his speech on a quiet note, lowering his voice and noting that cities bear the responsibility for driving the nation’s economy.
As such, he and Obama would be big boosters for cities, he said.
“I promise you that as long we're still here, we'll be a city president and a city vice president,” he said.