"America is Better Than That"?: Senator Durbin on the DREAM Act

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I'm in the middle of writing a long post on the failure of the DREAM Act, but while I was writing it I spent a lot of time and effort transcribing the words of Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) who was the chief proponent of the bill.  Instead of bogging down what is already going to be a long post I thought I would post his words separately.

I was invited onto a conference call with him yesterday and have transcribed that, and I've also transcribed the entire speech he made on the floor of the Senate today in support of the DREAM Act and embedded the youtube videos of it, from the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigraiton Reform.

His words are definitely worth reading.  Below is what he said during the conference call.
After explaining the particulars of the act, Senator Durbin opened it up to questions from bloggers:

Duke: There's been talk about possibly adding to the college component a technical or vocation component.  Is that at all up for grabs, or is that out?

Senator Durbin: My response is, I would be open to that suggestion, but I think political reality argues against it.  The only possibility to bring together the votes we need is not to expand the categories of eligibility but to restrict them.  I'm sorry that's the case.  The original bill allowed for community service, and technical education.  But, over the years, in order to move the bill along, we've had to make some concessions, many of which I wish we hadn't made...It is unfortunate. 

One of the things that was suggested to me at one point was, well if you just allowed military service perhaps it would pass.  I would not support a bill that just allowed military service.  We have a voluntary military and I think we need to preserve that.  And secondly, it troubles me that the only path to citizenship for these...young people would be through military service.  I think that there should be a second option.

Me:  Just along those lines, Senator Durbin...are you concerned that a lot of Latino youth will be forced into the military because of the DREAM Act?

Senator Durbin: Well they have basically they have three options.  One is to do nothing and continue in their current status, which is a very unfortunate position for many of them.  Second, to enlist in the military.  Third, to pursue college education for two years.  As I said the original version of the bill considered other options.  But over the years I wasn't able to keep that in the bill.  So, they have two options and I will fight for both of those.  Expanding it will be difficult.

Marisa Trevino: Senator Durbin, what happens if tomorrow you don't get your 60 votes when will this be able to be brought up again for consideration?

Senator Durbin: Realistically, I don't believe it will be brought up before the presidential election.  I think it is unlikely that it would be considered in an election year, and more likely that it would be held back until another debate over comprehensive immigration takes place.  Some of my colleagues are dissapointed, upset, that their facing this vote again, and have told me so.  But, I honestly felt this was my last reasonable chance to move this issue forward before we went into the election year.  So, I'm giving it a try.  And I've said to many people if you've had to face as many young and promising young people as I have, who would be helped by this, I think they also feel some obligation to do their best and do it quickly.

I need to go vote, but I wanted to say one last thing.  I spoke about this matter in the starkest and barest terms.  I did not, in the course of this, say what brought me to this, and I want to spend just a minute. 

I learned about 6 or 7 years ago about a young woman in my state who came at the age of two from Korea, who's parents never filed papers, and couldn't pursue her dream of college education because of that.  I thought it was unfair.  And when I asked the immigration authorities they said she only had one recourse and that was return to Korea -- a place where she'd never lived, and to a language she didn't speak. 

That struck me as totally unfair.  When I looked beyond her case I found so many more -- hundreds of others.  Tomorrow's nurse and teachers, and scientists and engineers, people who are going to create business, and really make this a better country.  And they're asking only for a chance.  And I hope tomorrow we can bring the votes together to make that happen.

I'm going to embed videos of Senator Durbin's speech on the floor today, and follow them with a transcript of those speeches in case people don't have the time or want to search for it.

His first speech:

Many speeches are made on the floor.  Many amendments are offered; many bills and resolutions.  Very few of them cause a ripple.  A handful of people may follow them, closely.  A handful of people may care. 

The DREAM Act is a different thing.  The DREAM Act is a bill which I thought about and introduced years ago and has finally reached this moment of truth where it comes to the floor of the United States Senate.  The reason why this bill will be noticed is that literally thousands of young people across America know that their fate and future will be determined by this vote. 

Yesterday, I had a press conference with three of these young people.  A congressman from the state of Colorado sent out a press release arguing that these three young people should be arrested in the United States Capitol.  Of course he didn't take the time to determine that they are all here now with the understanding, disclosure, and approval of our legal process. 

But his press release is an indication of how badly this debate is going in America.  To turn on these children and treat them as criminals, is an indication of the level of emotion, and in some cases bigotry and hatred, that is involved in this debate.  I want to tell you Mr. President.  America is better than that.  America is a better nation than what we here from the likes of that congressman. 

What crime did these children commit?  They committed the crime of obeying their parents, following their parents to this country.  You think there was a vote in the household about their future?  I don't think so.  Mom and Dad said, "we're leaving".  The kids packed their suitcases and followed.  That's their crime.  That's the only crime you can point to. 

And what did they do after they got here?  To qualify under the DREAM Act, they had to make certain that they didn't commit a crime while they were living in America, good moral character, and beat the odds by graduating from high school.  That's the only way they can qualify for this.

And then what do we say?  "Not enough.  If you want to be legal in America, you have to do one of two things.  Volunteer to serve in our military, to risk your life for America, then we'll give you a chance to be citizens."  That's not good enough for some.  Some argue, "no, we don't want them in our military.  We don't need them."  Well, the people involved in our military know better.  They know that these are the kind of bright, promising, young people who can serve our country with distinction.  And they tell us that. 

And what else could they do? Pursue their education.  To show that they're serious about making something of their lives.  That's the only way that they can have a chance.  That's what the DREAM Act is all about.  I could go through for an hour or more the stories of these young people that I've met.  They are hopeful and heartbreaking at the same time. 

Hopeful stories because these are young people that have the same dreams that my children have.  The same dreams that every American child has: To have a good life, a good family, do something important in their life.  That's all they want.  The young woman from India that I met from Chicago, who wants to be a dentist.  The young man from Mexico who's now pursuing his graduate degree in biomedical science, who wants to go into research.  The young girl from Texas, who is a graduate of nursing school, but can't find a job because she is a person without a country.  The teachers, tomorrows teachers, and engineers and scientists.  All they're asking for is a chance.  That is the hopeful side of it.

The heartbreaking side of it is that these are kids without countries.  They have nowhere to turn.  Tam Tran who is in the gallery today, and joined me yesterday.  What an arduous journey she's been through.  Starting in Vietnam, going to Germany, coming to the United States.  She can't return to Vietnam and face persecution.  And Germany won't have her.  She doesn't even speak German, and our government tells her, "leave".  She just graduated from UCLA, she wants to pursue a Ph.D. and be a professor.  "Leave, we don't want you".  Is that the message? 

If it is it's the wrong message.  Because time and again we are told that we need talent in America to be a successful prosperous nation.  We need to bring in talent from oversees and H1B visas, and H2B visas.  Well let me just tell you.  How can we at one side of the argument say that we need more talent and then turn these children away, turn these young people away? 

Give them a chance.  Give them hope.  Give them a chance to prove themselves to this country.  This bill puts them through a long process.  Some of them won't make it.  Most of them won't make it.  But those who do will make this a better nation.  Mr. President, isn't that what we should be about?

And towards the end of the debate time.

Mr. President, what are we talking about here?  We're talking about children.  Since when, in America, do we visit the sins and crimes of parents on children?  If a parent commits a crime does that mean that the child goes to prison?  If a parent disqualifies himself or herself from American citizenship, does that mean the child can never have a chance? Is that what America has come to?

Amidst the confusion and distortion and vitriol of this debate on immigration, since children like Marie Gonzales.  She was brought to this country from Costa Rica by her parents at the age of ten.  Her parents have been deported as illegals.  Because I have made a special request she has been allowed to continue to finish her college education at Westminster College in Missouri.  Her goal is to be an American and to give to the only country she has ever known.  Costa Rica is not her country, America's her country. 

What we are talking about is turning these children out.  Children with no country.  And what sin, what crime did they commit?  They obeyed their parents.  They followed their parents.  And for some that is going to be a mark of Cain on their heads forever in America.  Is that what we're all about? 

Give these kids a chance.  Meet them.  Take the time to see these children.  Many of us have.  And what you'll see in their eyes is the same kind of hope for this country that we want to see in our own children's eyes.  To be doctors and nurses and teachers, engineers, to find cures for diseases, to start businesses, the things that make America grow. 

Give these kids a chance.  Don't take your anger out on illegal immigration on children who have nothing to say about this.  They were brought to this country.  They've lived a good life.  They've proven themselves.  They've beaten the odds.  We need them. 

And then they'll turn around and tell me tomorrow that you need H1B visas to bring in talented people to America because we don't have enough.  Don't tell me you need H2B and H2A and all the rest of them. No, if you're going to turn away these children.  If you're going to say, "America doesn't need you, go about your business, find someplace in the world."  Don't come back to me and tell me we need a bigger labor pool and more talent in America. 

How can we say no to hope?  How can we say no to these kids when all they want is a piece of the American Dream?  Please vote to proceed to the DREAM Act.  I will work with Senator Hutchinson, a bipartisan amendment, we'll do our best and I think we can come up with something.  Give these kids a chance.

The vote then failed 52-44.

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This page contains a single entry by kyledeb published on October 24, 2007 4:14 PM.

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