Sept. 27, 2004
LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT ACT OF 2003
Mrs. CLINTON. Mr. President, I rise today in recognition of the DREAM Vigil, a national grassroots effort to raise support for the DREAM Act. Many New Yorkers participated in a 5-day fast during the National Week of Action for Immigrants' Rights. They did this in part to show support for the DREAM Act, an important piece of legislation for immigration reform. In a show of solidarity, similar fasts have been organized in cities and States across the Nation over the past 2 weeks. The DREAM Vigil culminated last week and I commend all of the State and local organizations, community members, local leaders and students in New York and across the Nation that have participated in this effort.
Recently, I stood before you and spoke about the importance of this month's celebration of Hispanic heritage. Today, Hispanic Americans are flourishing in States across the country and I am proud to represent the most diverse Hispanic community in our Nation. Yet, I worry that far too many immigrant children and families continue to suffer under America's broken immigration system.
This year more than 65,000 immigrant students graduated from U.S. high schools only to see the doors of opportunity closed to them, through no fault of their own. The DREAM Act, which I proudly cosponsor, will help expand opportunities for our Nation's immigrant students by placing them on a path to college and U.S. citizenship. Yet Members of Congress and this administration continue to put this important legislation on the back burner.
Over the last few years, immigrant students and advocates across the country have engaged in an enormous amount of activity in support of the DREAM Act. They have met with members of Congress, held hundreds of rallies, gathered more than 100,000 petitions, made tens of thousands of phone calls to congressional offices, and more. Just last April, over 300 students and advocates came to Washington, DC, from all across the Nation to express their support for the DREAM Act and to urge President Bush to support this legislation. Nearly half of these students came from New York, and I was proud to have had the opportunity to meet some of them.
It is important to understand that these students were brought to this Nation as young children and have been educated in our public school system. They have stayed in school and stayed out of trouble and many are valedictorians, honor students, student leaders, and high achievers. Yet, because of their immigration status they are often effectively barred from pursuing a post-secondary education and the American dream.
Over the past several years I have met many of these students. They have also written to me to share their stories of why this legislation is important to them. In July, I heard from Alejandra, who came to Washington as part of a group of advocates for immigration reform. Alejandra also participated in the 5-day fast as part of the National Week of Action in New York. She graduated in June as the valedictorian of Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights, Queens. Alejandra was a member of the National Honor Society; a sixth grade tutor; a teacher's assistant; an intern with the Global Kids, Human Rights Activist Project; and one of 400 students and staff across the Nation who were selected to participate in the National Young Leaders Conference in Washington, DC, last year. Yet. Alejandra is one of many students across New York whose high school graduation was bittersweet.
Alejandra has done everything right. However, she still struggles to pay for college, a struggle that is not based on her merit, but rather on her immigration status. Despite all of her hard work, exemplary academic performance, and outstanding record of community service, Alejandra remains ineligible for Federal grants, loans or work-study jobs to help her afford college. Our broken immigration system is trying to force her out of our education system and the American dream. But, Alejandra is determined. She is persistent, and she refuses to give up. In spite of her immigration status and unlike other students in her precarious situation, Alejandra has found a way to pursue higher education. She currently attends the City University of new York. But still, the DREAM Act remains her only real hope of achieving that one thing that all Americans yearn and work hard for-the opportunity to fully contribute to the land we call home-the American dream. Without the DREAM Act, her years of hard work and the education that she has struggled so hard to obtain will be meaningless and wasted since Alejandra will never be able to put her skills to work legally.It is a wasted investment for her and a wasted investment for the American people.
I find it deeply troubling that we allow this to happen in today's 21st century economy, where a post-secondary education is quickly becoming the minimum requirement for higher-earning jobs. Failure to provide immigrant students such as Alejandra and all students with adequate access to post-secondary education will have devastating economic and social consequences for these individuals and our entire Nation.
That is why the DREAM Act is so critical. It ensures that the promise of the American dream becomes a reality for our Nation's immigrants-many of whom are Hispanic Americans-and every American. Results of two national public opinion polls demonstrate strong voter support for the concept embodied in the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act deserves our Nation's full support and I urge President Bush and Congress to pass this important legislation this year.