Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I thank the minority for giving me this opportunity to speak. Later in this queue of votes there will be a vote on an issue known as the DREAM Act. I introduced this bill 10 years ago. What I am attempting to do in this bill is to try to resolve an item of great injustice in America.
All across this country are young boys and girls, young men and women who came to this country with their parents when they were only children, who were brought in by parents who were here in illegal status. They could have been parents who came here on a student visa and stayed beyond when they were supposed to. But the children have been raised in America. They have grown up in this country.
I learned of this issue in Chicago when a young Korean-American mother called and said: My daughter, I brought her here when she was 2 years old and I never filed any paperwork. She just completed high school. She has been accepted at Juilliard School of Music. She is an accomplished pianist. What should I do?
When I contacted our immigration authorities, they said: Send her back to Korea. She is not an American citizen. She has no status in this country.
Multiply that story many times over and you will know why I introduced the DREAM Act. If you or I were driving down the highway and speeding, pulled over by a policeman and given a ticket, we would understand it. But if they also gave a ticket to your young daughter in the backseat, you would say: That is not fair. She wasn't driving. These children were not driving when their parents came to America, but they have been trying to drive through the obstacles that are here for all new immigrants into this country, and they have achieved some remarkable things.
I met these young men and women across America. They are inspiring in terms of what they achieve coming from poor immigrant families. They are the valedictorians of their classes, they are presidents and stars on the sports teams and the people who win the college bowls and they are undocumented. They have no country and they have no place to go.
So we said, in the name of compassion and justice, give these young people a chance. I introduced the bill 10 years ago and I have been fighting ever since to pass it and this afternoon we will have the chance to move to this bill, the DREAM Act. But we don't make it easy on these young people. Despite the fact that half the Hispanics in this country today do not graduate from high school, we require, for example, that all children covered by the DREAM Act must graduate from high school. As to this argument by the Senator from Alabama that they may go to a phony or fake high school, let me tell you these young people are going to be carefully scrutinized. They have to meet the test.
That is not all they have to meet. There will be other tests too. Have they been guilty of a felony or criminal activity beyond simple misdemeanors? It disqualifies them.
Have they engaged in voter fraud or unlawful voting? It disqualifies them. Have they committed marriage fraud? It disqualifies them. Have they abused the student visa? It disqualifies them. Have they engaged in any kind of activity that would create a public health risk? It disqualifies them.
For 10 years, these young people will have a chance to do one of two things: To enlist in our military--think of that. We have young undocumented people in this country today who are willing to risk their lives to serve in the U.S. military alongside our heroes, our men and women currently serving.
Let me tell you the story of one I have met. This is Cesar Vargas. This is an extraordinary young man who came to New York at the age of 5, brought here by his parents. When 9/11 occurred, Cesar Vargas went down to the recruiters' office and said: I want to sign up. I want to fight for my country.
They said: Mr. Vargas, this is not your country. You may have lived here all your life, but you have no place here. You cannot enlist.
He was disappointed, but he didn't quit. He went on to finish college. He is now in law school. Cesar Vargas is a student at the City University of New York School of Law, where he has a 3.0 GPA. He is fluent in Spanish, Italian, French and English and he is mastering Cantonese and Russian. When he graduates from law school, he will be a choice candidate at some major law firm, but that isn't what he wants to do. He wants to enlist in the military of the United States of America. He cannot do it today because Cesar Vargas, who has lived his entire life, to his knowledge, in this country, has no country. The DREAM Act will give him a chance to volunteer to serve America. If he does, it puts him on a path to become a citizen. I think that is fair.
We also say that if a young person completes 2 years of college, we will put them on the path to legalization. Do you know what percentage of undocumented students go to college today? Five percent, 1 out of 20. It is a huge obstacle for these people. Yet they are prepared to clear that obstacle and, if they do, they will wait for 10 years with conditional immigrant status. What does it mean? They have no legal rights for 10 years, even if they do these things--enlist in the military or go on to finish 2 years of college. For 10 years, they cannot draw a Pell grant, a Federal student loan, no Medicaid, no government health programs--they don't qualify for any of it for 10 years. Then, we put them in a process of another 3 years of close examination and scrutiny before they reach the stage of legalization--13 years.
Do you know what. Some of them are going to make that journey successfully because that is who they are. If you meet these young people, you will understand some of the things said on the floor are so wrong. These are the most energetic, idealistic young people you can meet in your life. They are tomorrow's lawyers and doctors and engineers. That is why major business groups have endorsed this legislation, saying we need this talent pool. That is why the Secretary of Defense has endorsed this legislation, saying we need these young men and women in our military to serve our Nation. We can give them a chance to serve, we can put them on a road that will be difficult but no more difficult than what they have gone through in their lives or we can say, no, wait for another day.
Some of my colleagues have said we will take up the DREAM Act once the borders of America are safe. I have signed up for every bill, virtually everything that has been proposed to make our borders safe. Come July, we put $600 million more into border protection. I didn't object. Do it. Let's make our borders safe. But for goodness' sake, is it fair to say to these young people you cannot have a life until our borders are the safest in the world, when we have the longest border in the world between the United States and Mexico? Keep working on making those borders safe but give these young people a chance. These people embody what I consider to be the immigrant spirit which makes America what it is today.
I am proud to stand here as the 47th Senator from Illinois and the son of an immigrant. My mother came to this country at the age of 2 from Lithuania, and I thank God her mom and dad had the courage to get on that boat and come over here and fight the odds and give me a chance to become an American citizen and a Senator.
That is what America is about. That is the story of our country, the strength, the determination of these immigrants and their children.
These people are important to our future. These young men and women deserve that chance, and we will have an opportunity today. I know some vote against it for a variety of reasons, and I don't question their motives at all, but I hope they get a chance to meet these young people. They are all over Capitol Hill. They do not have paid lobbyists. They are walking around, usually in graduation gowns and mortar boards because that is what they want, a chance to go to school and improve themselves. If you meet them and talk to them, you will be convinced, as I am, that this is the single best thing we can do for the future of our country, the single best thing we can do in the name of justice. This is our current challenge when it comes to the future of immigration.
I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ignore and set aside some of the arguments that have been made that do not stand up to scrutiny. To understand what we are doing in this bill is to give these young people a chance but to hold them to a standard which very few of us can live up to. We want to make sure they apply within 1 year of this bill passing. We want to make sure they have their chance to succeed. When they do, we will be a better nation for it.
All across this country the leaders at universities and colleges tell us these are the young people we want who will make this a better nation. Some of the arguments that have been made suggest this is going to be a piece of cake, it is so easy for these young people. It will not be. It will be a hard process and a difficult road to follow. But in the name of justice, in the name of fairness, give these young people a chance--a chance to be part of this great country.
Every single one of us, but for those who were Native Americans here long before the White people arrived, have come to this country as immigrants--not this generation perhaps but in previous generations. Those who were African American have come against their will. The fact is, they are here, and they are what makes America the great Nation it is. Our diversity is our strength and these young people are as strong as they come.
Let's pass the DREAM Act. Let's make these dreams come true. Let's stand, once and for all, and say this just Nation not only has room but welcomes all this talent that has come to our shores.
I yield the floor.
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