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Mel Martinez bids the Senate goodbye: "Fixing our nation's broken immigration system remains a national imperative"

Mel Martinez is giving his final remarks on the Senate floor this morning, closing out what he says was a "fulfilling chapter of my own American dream." Martinez, the first Cuban-American senator who is leaving with 16 months left in his term, urged passage of immigration reform and thanked a number of senators for helping him serve in "the most cherished institution of our democracy."

His prepared remarks below:

The unique opportunity to serve in the United States Senate is the culmination of an unlikely journey ­-- a journey that has taken me from the country of my birth to the halls of the most cherished institution of our

I am very grateful to the people of Florida for giving me the privilege of representing them in the United States Senate. I consider my time in the Senate as the culmination of my time in public service ­-- the close of a fulfilling chapter of my own American Dream.

Having lived through the onset of tyranny in one country and played a part in the proud democratic traditions of another, I leave here today with tremendous gratitude for the opportunity to give back to the nation I love -the nation not of my birth but of my choice, the great nation that has such a proud tradition of welcoming immigrants and even showering us with opportunity. That is why I consider serving my community, my state, and our nation for the past 12 years a privilege.

It was a desire to give back and make a contribution to this nation that propelled me to enter public life.
 As a mayor, a cabinet secretary, and as a Senator, preserving opportunities for others to receive their own claim to the American Dream has always been a mission for me.

I have worked during all phases of my public life with a sincere desire to make a difference and today, I prepare to return home knowing that I have done my best to advance the things that make our nation great, prosperous, and free.

We truly live in the greatest nation in the history of the world, and throughout my time in public service, I have been humbled to play such a proud role in our democracy.

As Mayor of Orange County, it was a pleasure to lead the community that had done so much for me and my family. The agenda during my tenure was aggressive  and carried out due to the hard work of a lot of people ­ some who are still around me today.

Following my service as mayor, I received a call from President-Elect George W. Bush to serve my adopted nation as the first Cuban-American in the Cabinet of a President. The call to serve as HUD Secretary was unexpected and not only a source of pride for me and my family, but especially for the Cuban-American community. I will always be grateful to President Bush for giving me such an historic

My time of service in the Cabinet was punctuated by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The sobering events of that day defined a large part of that period of time. Participating in the reconstruction of Lower Manhattan and the added responsibility from those events will be forever carried in my memory.

While there is no question it was a privilege to serve the President, there has been no greater honor than serving the people of Florida as senator. Aside from the debates, the speeches, and the painstaking work that goes into turning ideas into law, one the most rewarding experiences has been helping Floridians resolve issues that impact their lives.

 In the short time I have been here, my office has assisted more than 36,000 of Florida¹s families through casework, and written correspondence to countless more. We made tremendous progress on some of the many issues facing our nation and Florida in particular. These included efforts to develop our natural energy resources while protecting the environment; seeking to modernize our military through increased shipbuilding and ensuring we meet the Navy¹s goal of strategic dispersal; and working to protect our nation¹s homebuyers from bad loans, bad investments, and predatory lending practices.

It has also been rewarding to know that our work can often impact the lives of those living outside our borders, fighting for the freedoms we hold dear. I have brought to my work the belief that it is always necessary to provide a voice for those silenced for attempting to advance the cause of freedom. Having lived under Cuba¹s repressive dictatorship, I have always recognized the struggle of those who fight for freedom.
That has always been and will continue to be a lifelong passion. I have taken every opportunity to recognize those engaged in Cuba¹s peaceful civic struggle for democratic change in Cuba and stand up for their human rights: Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Antúnez, the Damas de Blanco (the Ladies in White), and the victims of the Black Spring government crackdowns.  It is my fervent hope that one day in the not too distant future, the people of Cuba will live in freedom with dignity and the hope for a better tomorrow that is their God-given right.

Even though I will no longer hold public office, my passion to work and devote myself to seeing a day when the people of Cuba can live in freedom will continue. The preservation of all freedoms ­ whether they be in Cuba or around the world­ calls us to stand up whenever and wherever it is threatened. One series of events will stand out in my mind as evidence of the power of an individual.

A constituent of mine, a woman named Cuc Foshee, was falsely imprisoned in a Ho Chi Minh prison while she was visiting her family in Vietnam. She was there for a wedding but the Vietnamese government knew Ms. Foshee as someone unafraid to speak out against the government ­a right we take for granted. While on her way to the wedding, Ms. Foshee and six others were arrested and detained for supporting so-called "anti-government" activities. For months in prison, Ms. Foshee faced endless interrogation for crimes she
didn¹t commit. She was denied many of the basic rights granted to prisoners in the American justice system and was prohibited from contacting her family back home. After her plight was brought to my attention, I began working with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to help secure her release. Using what tools we had here in the Senate at the time ­ including a Vietnamese free trade agreement before the Senate ­ we drew attention to her cause and eventually negotiated her release from prison. Through this experience, we saw exactly why freedom matters, even if it¹s just freedom for one person.

While there have been many triumphs, there are also those challenges that remain unmet­ including comprehensive immigration reform. I¹m proud to say a key supporter of our efforts on comprehensive immigration reform was the late Senator Ted Kennedy. For nearly a half-century, Senator Ted Kennedy has played an integral part in this institution and I¹m saddened by his death. It was an honor to work with him closely with him on immigration. While we often disagreed, he was a man of his word and always ready to get something done. I always admired his ability to put differences aside and find consensus on some of the most important issues facing our nation. His work on immigration was no exception.But despite our best efforts, which included Senators Kennedy and McCain,other members from both sides of the aisle, and strong leadership from President Bush, I¹m sad to say the problem remains unresolved. President Ronald Reagan talked about the idea that America remains a beacon of freedom to the world when he spoke about the "shining city on the hill." In his farewell address to our nation, he touched on the idea that the
contributions of all individuals are what make our nation great. He said: "if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here." I believe those words to be as true today as they were then.  Although the bill didn¹t make it across the finish line, I¹m proud of the progress that was made. I hope Congress can one day reach consensus on the issue because fixing our nation's broken immigration system remains a national imperative.

Whether it¹s immigration, budgets, or even Supreme Court justices, I¹ll miss the debates. I thank my fellow Senators for their collegiality and friendship. I know these friendships will be the hardest to leave. I want to thank Senator McConnell and the party leadership for their support and friendship these past years. I also want to thank my friends on the other side of the aisle,­ especially Senators Harry Reid and Dick Durbin.
I especially enjoyed working with you during those rare but important issues where we found consensus.
Bill Nelson, my fellow colleague from Florida ­ you have been a true friend and a tireless advocate for the people of Florida. I appreciate your staff¹s hard work, including your Chief of Staff, Pete Mitchell. And I also want to thank you for the kindness you have extended to Kitty and me over the years. I think we made a good team for Florida.
 I also thank my wonderful staff for their tremendous dedication, hard work, and commitment to serving the people of Florida. I would like to specifically recognize my State Director Kevin Doyle, Senior Director Kate Bush, Communications Director Ken Lundberg, Legislative Director Michael Zehr, Executive Assistant Terry Couch, and my Chief of Staff and longtime friend Tom Weinberg. I¹d also like to thank those who were with me on day one:­ my former Communications Director Kerry Feehery, former State Director Matthew Hunter,
and former Chief of Staff John Little.

Most importantly, I would like to thank my wife Kitty and our family for their love and support especially during my public life. Throughout my life, I have always lived by the belief that if you work hard, play by the rules, and have an abiding faith in God, all things are possible in America. My time in the Senate is a testament to that fact, and I am humbled by the trust the people of Florida placed in me. I also very specially want to thank the Cuban-American community throughout our country but especially in South Florida. You embraced me and believed in me.  We shared pride in who we are and what we have accomplished. Your enthusiastic support has touched my heart for as long as I live and I will treasure these things forever.

Me hicieron suyos y creyeron en mi. Compartimos el orgullo en lo que somos y lo que hemos logrado.  Su apoyo entusiasta ha tocado mi corazon, y atesoraré estas memorias para siempre.

My time of service is only a fraction of the nearly two and a half centuries that have passed since our founders charted our course as a free people. But the opportunity for someone like me to serve speaks volumes about the promise they made and the one our nation continues to keep. I would like to close with the words of José Martí, a hero of mine and to all those who strive to further the cause of freedom.
 He said, quote "Liberty the essence of life. Whatever is done without it is imperfect."  As a public servant, his words have stuck with me as I have worked to ensure freedom and opportunity continues to flourish across my state and our great nation."