WASHINGTON (AP) – Celebrating Hispanics' contribution to the nation, President Barack Obama said Thursday that America is made great "not by building walls, but by tearing down barriers to opportunity."
Obama spoke as the White House observed Hispanic Heritage Month. His remarks contrasted with concerns about immigration among some Republican presidential contenders. Frontrunner Donald Trump has called for building a wall along the border of Mexico.
Obama said the country is enriched "not by trying to divide us, but by trying to build community." If people were told "to go back where they came from," America would be "a really empty country," he said.
Everyone has a "rightful place at the table," the president said, pointing out that Hispanic students are helping push the high school graduation rates to an all-time high.
The White House reception also marked the 25th anniversary of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. Obama was joined by Vice President Joe Biden as he welcomed the audience to "la Casa Blanca."
The White House initiative, which Obama called "a powerful vehicle for progress," established a commission of educators, philanthropists, labor and nonprofit organizations to advise the president on ways to assist Latino children and the Hispanic community.
Obama announced $335 million in commitments from various groups to expand educational opportunities for Latino students. Among the donors, the Boys and Girls Club of America is providing $20 million focused on engaging families and helping students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee, is committing $12.4 million in financial and academic assistance for undocumented Hispanic students ineligible for federal and state aid.
The National Partnership for Early Childhood Literacy is pledging up to $20 million to increase the number of Hispanic children who become proficient in reading by third grade.