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Public Statements

The Dream Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

THE DREAM ACT -- (Senate - October 24, 2007)

Mr. MENENDEZ. Madam President, I came to the floor to talk about the earlier vote on the DREAM Act. I have heard some of my colleagues define it in ways that make me believe the future of any other form of immigration reform is going to be incredibly difficult. We did not get to cloture and cannot move to have a full debate on the bill and a vote to move in a direction in which we could give young people in this country--who did not choose to come to this country themselves, as they were brought here by their parents at a young age, and who in many cases could achieve great success for the Nation--an opportunity to earn their way to a process of legalization. To see that those hopes have been snuffed out by the votes that were taken here leads me to believe the future of any other form of immigration reform is going to be incredibly difficult.

It was not the decision of these children to come to the United States. It's hard to make a decision about where you are moving to when you are in a stroller. If we cannot give hope to children, if we are going to insist that the children be responsible for the sins of their parents, in making the decision they did to come in an undocumented fashion to the United States, then this is not the America I know.

If, by no choice of your own, you came to this country and have now grown up--for many of those children I have met across the landscape of the country have grown up as Americans, and thought of themselves as Americans--and then came a point in time in which they wanted to go to college or enlist in the Armed Forces, they found their status was not that of an American. They wanted badly to either serve or to be able to fulfill their God-given abilities by achieving a college education. They had to earn all of this. All we need to do is give them a chance.

I have colleagues who represent a lot of sectors, and they want people to come to this country and use their human capital to do some of the toughest jobs that exist in America, to bend their backs and be on their knees picking crops for Americans to be able to consume.

There are some who suggest we are going to even change the nature of what AgJOBS is, so even though you come year after year, you bend your back, you give your sweat, you do some of the toughest jobs no one wants to do--we will not give you any pathway to earn legalization.

I don't know how those who want to see the AgJOBS bill move think it can move when we turn down children who had no choice of their own. Our friends in industries that request H1-B visas say we need to bring people from other countries in the world to America because we don't have enough human capital here to meet our Nation's high-tech demands, but in that case it doesn't make much sense to refuse to take advantage of the proven capacity of so many children in this country, some of whom have graduated as valedictorians and salutatorians from high school. A vote against the DREAM Act says, we are not going to use that intellect; no, let's bring in somebody from outside the country to perform that service.

Those in the service industries, such as the hotels and motels of our cities and highways, who want people to clean the toilets and the bathrooms, or those who want workers to pluck the chickens at poultry plants or work at seafood establishments and the list goes on and on--let's give those people visas to come to this country and let's use their human capital. I am for any American who wants to do any of those jobs first and foremost. Whatever is necessary to create that opportunity, I am for. But in the absence of it, I wish to challenge some of our colleagues who talk about the big growers and their needs, who talk about the high-tech industry and their needs, who talk about the hotels and motels and poultry plants and seafood plants--and then vote against these children. I want to hear how they can justify the differences.

What the DREAM Act said was if you had no choice, you made no choice in coming to this country--your parents brought you here, you grew up here and you have been a good citizen, you have lived the type of life we want all our young people to live in terms of being good citizens, being of exemplary character, being individuals who have the intellectual capacity on their own to get into college--we want to give them the opportunity to have the status to do that. I would rather have our kids going to school than hanging out on the streets, but I guess we would rather have them hanging out on the streets rather than having them get an education and serving our Nation.

I don't understand how a military that is straining, in terms of the volunteer Armed Forces that we have, that has now downgraded whom they are willing to accept in the Armed Forces to include people who have criminal records and those who are high school dropouts, we will have those people serve, but we will not have young people who are incredibly talented, have no criminal record whatsoever, exemplary individuals, and some of them, some very smart ones, but who want to serve America because they believe themselves to be Americans--oh, no, let's not have them serve in the Armed forces of the United States. By virtue of that service, including the possibility that they could die on behalf of their adopted country, no, let's not give them that opportunity either. We would rather take people who have criminal records. We would rather take people who have not even finished high school.

The first U.S. soldier who died in Iraq was someone who was not a U.S. citizen. Yet he died in Iraq in the service of the country he loved as his own.

I believe there are going to be challenges going forward. As Members of the Senate who represent different parts of our economy come forth and say, ``I need to help the farmers because we need to get people in those fields, we can't get anybody to do the job;'' or, ``I need to have someone at that poultry plant and make sure that we are able to pluck chickens and go through the bone-breaking job, their hands are cut from the processing,'' I want to see how, in fact, that discussion is going to take place.

We will certainly be here to challenge our colleagues to think about how can you promote those desires and yet snuff out the hopes and dreams and aspirations of a young person who did not do anything wrong. On the contrary, they want to do everything they can to serve this country, and we say no to them. Yet we will bring in people from other parts of the world to do these things. It is going to be very difficult. It is going to be very difficult, without reform of the process, to make sure we are not outsourcing jobs in the process, without labor protections. I think it is all going to be very difficult.

I hope our colleagues will think about reconsidering their position on the DREAM Act because they say it is an ``amnesty.'' Everything is amnesty to them. I can't wait until the AgJOBS bill comes up. I am sure we will get cries of ``amnesty.'' I can't wait until the H-1B issue comes up. I can't wait until the H-2B issue comes up. I am sure it will be cries of ``amnesty.'' So those sectors of the American economy will be halted, and we will not get the productivity we need because I am sure they are not going to find a way to say that it is not ``amnesty.''

At end of the day, I am looking forward to those debates as we move forward. I believe we have set a precedent in today's vote that people will rue as they try to understand the essence of some of the economic sectors of our country that are going to need help, have needed help, and need help today.

We should, hopefully, have a little introspection and figure out whether a process in which you have a journey to go through, in which you have to start with an exemplary record, in which you have to be willing to meet all types of challenges, in which you must give of yourself to the Nation or you must be able to create personal achievement that ultimately will be of value to the Nation--whether snuffing out that opportunity is in the national interests of the United States.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.


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