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Mr. MENENDEZ. Madam President, I rise to speak on the two pending votes before the Senate. First, I wish to follow my distinguished colleague from New York, whose comments I want to echo regarding the Presiding Officer, who has made this one of her passions. She picked it up when I first introduced the James Zadroga Act and then took it up when she came to the Senate and has done a magnificent job and brought us to this moment.
Jim Zadroga was a New Jerseyan who spent 450 hours at the World Trade Center site--a New York City police officer who simply had a paper mask on as his only protection. He and so many others who answered on that fateful day did not question their personal security, did not give it a second thought. They did not think about their health, did not think about the potential consequences that would flow from the exposure to which they were subjecting themselves. They thought only about responding, saving lives, and meeting the Nation's need--the Nation's need, not New York's need. For Jim Zadroga and so many others, the consequence of that selflessness has been enormous. In many cases, they have died. In other cases, they have serious life-threatening illnesses. In other cases, they have real disabilities as a result of those illnesses.
I remember on that day, after the attacks on September 11, how we came together on the Capitol steps and we declared our commitment of love of country and a commitment to those who died on that fateful day, to their families, and to those who responded. I remember the incredible words--glowing, soaring--that were spoken about the bravery of those men and women who responded from all over the country.
Those who are the victims of the exposure they received on the ground on September 11 come from every State in the Union. This is not simply a New York issue or a New Jersey issue, where so many of our first responders came from. These are individuals who came from across the country, who came together as Americans to respond on that fateful day. This requires each and every one of us in the Senate to respond to all of those Americans from every State who ultimately find themselves, through their selflessness, exposed to life-threatening illnesses. A grateful nation not only joins together in commemoration on September 11 of each year but a grateful nation shows its gratitude to those who answered the call without concern for their well-being by how we take care of their health care, how we take care of their disabilities, and how we take care of the families of those who ultimately lost their lives in service to the country.
This is no different than the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States and go abroad to defend the Nation. These men and women wore uniforms too. Some of them wore the uniform of a police officer, some of them wore the uniform of a firefighter, some wore the uniform of emergency management personnel. Some of them, ultimately, were first-aid squads.
But all of them on those fateful days wore a uniform that served the Nation. How can the Nation forget them now? That is what this vote is all about.
I cannot accept as a moral equivalent that some oath not to vote on those who serve the country, risk their lives, cannot take place because of some vote on some tax issue. No one in the Nation would believe that it is OK to say: I will not vote to give relief to the health of those individuals who sacrificed their health on September 11 and the days after because I have to wait for some pending tax vote.
Go back to the men and women who serve this country and look at them in their eyes and tell them it is some vote that we are waiting for on taxes that determines whether their health needs will be responded to. Shameless. I can't wait to see, when one of us stands for one of those pictures on the commemoration of September 11, the comments about how heroic those individuals were but cannot cast a simple vote.
THE DREAM ACT
Finally, I want to move to the question of the DREAM Act. On the DREAM Act, the House of Representatives took a critical step yesterday in making a reality of the dreams and hopes and aspirations of young people who know nothing but this country as their country. They made no choices in their lives to come to the United States. Those choices were made by their parents. All they know is that they stand every day as young students and pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. All they know is the national anthem of the United States. All they know is they worked hard and became salutatorians, valedictorians, and done everything we expect of any one of us, particularly of our children, to try to excel and exceed. Overwhelmingly, they have excelled and exceeded. Yet their dream of being able to continue to exceed and excel on behalf of the Nation is blunted by the fact that they have an undocumented status in this country through no fault of their own.
The DREAM Act says if you are willing to wear the uniform and serve in the Armed Forces of the United States, and you serve honorably for 2 years, we will give you a pathway toward permanent residency. If you go to college--assuming that you ultimately qualify, that you are accepted, and that you do well--we will give you a pathway to permanent residency. We will adjust your status and permit that dream to take place.
This is not amnesty. Amnesty--which I have heard some of my colleagues use, and they will use it on anything that is immigration related. Right away they roll out the word ``amnesty.'' Amnesty is when you get something for nothing; when you did something wrong and you have to pay no consequence. In this case I believe wearing the uniform of the U.S. Armed Forces, risking your life for your country, maybe losing that life before you achieve your goal and your dream, is not amnesty. I believe working hard and being educated so you can help fuel the Nation's prosperity and meet its economic challenge, that is not amnesty. That is paying your dues on behalf of the country. For if you do all of that, you still have to wait a decade before your status can be adjusted to permanent residency. So you have to be an exemplary citizen, you have to do everything that is right, everything we cherish in America. That is what the DREAM Act is all about and that is why the Secretary of Defense has come out in strong support of the DREAM Act. That is why Colin Powell came out in support of the DREAM Act. That is why the Under Secretary, Personnel and Readiness at the Department of Defense during the Bush administration, David Chu, came out and said this is, in essence, the very effort we would like to see.
[For] many of these young people ..... the DREAM Act would provide the opportunity of serving the United States in uniform.
Moreover, university presidents, respected education associations, leading Fortune 500 businesses, such as Microsoft, also support this legislation. Mike Huckabee explained the economic sense of allowing undocumented children to earn their way.
Let's not stop young men and women who know only this country as their country, who made no choices on their own. Let's be family-friendly. Let's observe the values. Let's pass the DREAM Act today.
I yield the floor.
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