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Mr. DURBIN. Madam President, more than two centuries ago, in the Declaration of Independence, our Founding Fathers wrote that ``all men are created equal.'' America has sometimes fallen short of that ideal, but the history of our country has been a slow march toward equality for all.
We have seen Presidents play a key role in expanding freedom and equality. Who can forget Harry Truman's desegregation of the military, which set the stage for a Supreme Court decision and a civil rights era that has literally changed the face of America?
Last Friday was another case in point. President Barack Obama declared that his administration will no longer deport immigrant students who grew up in America. This action will give these young immigrants the chance to come out of the shadows and be part of the only country they have ever called home. With that decisive executive decision, America took another step toward fulfilling the Founders' promise of justice for all.
It has been 11 years--11 years--since I first introduced the DREAM Act--legislation that would allow a select group of immigrant students with real potential to contribute more fully to America.
The DREAM Act would give these students a chance to earn citizenship if they came to the United States as children, they have been long-term U.S. residents, they have good moral character, graduate from high school, and either complete 2 years of military service or 2 years of college.
The DREAM Act has a history of broad bipartisan support. When I first introduced it, Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican from Utah, was my lead cosponsor. In fact, we had kind of a head to head--who was going to be the first name: Hatch or Durbin? Since the Republicans were in the majority, I bowed toward Senator Hatch.
In 2006--when Republicans last controlled this Congress--the DREAM Act passed the Senate as part of comprehensive immigration reform on a 62-to-36 vote, with 23 Republicans voting for the DREAM Act. Unfortunately, the Republican leaders in the House refused to even consider the bill.
Republican support for the DREAM Act, unfortunately, has been diminishing over the years. The last time the DREAM Act was considered in Congress, the bill passed the House under the leadership of Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and received a strong majority vote in the Senate. But only eight Republican House Members and three Republican Senators voted for the bill. What a change in such a short period of time.
Let's be clear: The only reason the DREAM Act is not the law of the land of America is because we consistently face a Republican filibuster whenever we bring up this bill.
The vast majority of Democrats continue to support the DREAM Act, but the reality is it cannot pass without support from my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. That is why I have always said I am open to sitting down with anyone, Republican or Democrat, who is interested in working in good faith to solve this problem.
I am personally committed to passing the DREAM Act, no matter how long it takes. But the young people who would be eligible for the DREAM Act cannot wait any longer for Congress to act. Many have been deported from the only country they have ever known: America. They have been sent off to countries they do not remember with languages they do not speak.
Those who are still here are growing older. And when they graduate from college, they are stuck, unable to work, unable to contribute to the only country they know.
That is why President Obama, using his Presidential authority, did such an important thing to help these immigrant students. The President granted them a form of relief known as ``deferred action,'' which puts a hold on their deportation and allows them, on a temporary, renewable basis, to live and work legally in America.
That was the right thing to do. These students grew up here pledging allegiance to our flag and singing the only national anthem they know. They are Americans in their heart and in their mind. They did not make the decision to come to this country; their parents did.
As Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said last Friday, immigrants who were brought here illegally as children ``lacked [any] intent to violate the law.'' And it is not the American way to punish children for their parents' actions. We do not do that in any aspect of the law in this country. Why would we do it here?
There will always be critics when the President uses his power, as he did last Friday. In fact, some Members of Congress attacked President Truman when he ordered the desegregation of America's military. They said Truman's order would hurt the military. Many even claimed Truman had performed an illegal act as President.
Today, many of the naysayers in this generation claim that halting the deportation of DREAM Act students will hurt the economy and that it too may be illegal. President Truman's critics were wrong, and so are President Obama's.
President Obama's new deportation policy will make America a stronger nation by giving these talented immigrants the chance to contribute more fully to our economy.
Studies show these young people could contribute literally trillions of dollars to the American economy during their working lives. They are the doctors, engineers, teachers, and soldiers who will make us a stronger nation. Why would we waste that talent? They have been educated and trained in the United States. We have invested in these people. Let us at least see the fruits of this investment, the benefits that can come to America.
Let's be clear. What the Obama administration has done in establishing this new process for prioritizing deportations is perfectly appropriate and legal. Throughout our history, the government has decided whom to prosecute, and whom not to prosecute based on law enforcement priorities and available resources.
The Supreme Court has held this:
An agency's decision not to prosecute ..... is a decision generally committed to an agency's absolute discretion.
President Obama granted deferred action--to use the technical term--to DREAM Act students. Past administrations, both Democratic and Republican, have used deferred action to stop deportation of low-priority cases.
Last month, 90 immigration law professors sent a letter to the President arguing that the executive branch has ``clear executive authority'' to grant deferred action to DREAM Act students. The letter explains that the executive branch has granted deferred action since at least 1971 and that Federal courts have recognized this authority since at least the mid-1970s. These immigration experts have also noted there are a number of precedents for granting deferred action to groups of individuals such as DREAM Act students.
The President's action is not just legal, it is also a smart and realistic approach to enforcing our immigration laws. Today, there are millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States, and it would literally take billions of dollars to deport them.
The Department of Homeland Security has to set priorities about which people to deport and which not to deport.
The Obama administration has established a deportation policy that makes it a high priority to deport those who have committed serious crimes or are a threat to public safety. I totally support that approach. President Obama has said we will not use our limited resources to deport DREAM Act students.
Some of my Republican colleagues have claimed this is a sort of backdoor amnesty. That isn't even close to being true. This is simply a decision to focus limited government resources on serious criminals and other public safety threats. DREAM Act students will not receive permanent legal status or citizenship under the President's order.
This policy has strong bipartisan support in Congress. I wish to say a special word about a colleague. Two years ago, Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar joined me--crossing the aisle--to ask the Department of Homeland Security to grant this deferred action. I called him on Friday and said: Dick, I just want to tell you how much I respect you. It took us 2 years, but we got it done.
He was the only Senator from the other side of the aisle with the courage to step up and join me in that letter. He may have paid a price for it, though he denied it in the phone conversation. I cannot tell you how much I respect that man for his courage in asking for this.
It took 2 years, but those students who are appreciative of the President's action should not forget the singular courage of the Senator from Indiana.
Last year, when Senator Lugar and I sent a renewed request, 21 Senators joined us, including majority leader Harry Reid, Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, and, of course, Senator Bob Menendez, who heads up the Hispanic Caucus in the Senate.
It is easy to criticize the President's new deportation policy when it is an abstract debate and we are talking about constitutional legal authority and deferred action and so forth.
I think what has brought this debate to where it stands today are the real stories, the stories of these young people. I have tried almost every week to come to the floor to tell a DREAM Act story. Today, I wish to tell one more.
This is a photo of Manny Bartsch, who was born in Germany. He was abused and neglected by his parents, so his grandmother became his guardian. After Manny's grandfather passed away, his grandmother married an American soldier. When Manny was 7 years old, sadly, his grandmother was tragically killed by a drunk driver. His step-grandfather decided to return to America, and he brought Manny with him. They moved to Gilboa, a small town in northwestern Ohio.
Unfortunately, Manny's step-grandfather, wanting to protect him, failed to file any papers for Manny to become a U.S. citizen. But Manny grew up in Ohio, where he went to elementary school and high school. When Manny was preparing to apply for college, he learned he didn't have any legal status in America.
Manny wanted to do the right thing, so he made an appointment with Immigration Services to clear up things. When he showed up for his appointment, Manny was arrested and detained. He was 17 years old.
Here is what Manny said about the prospect of being deported to Germany, a country he left as a little boy:
I don't know anybody over there. This is my home. This is where everybody I know lives, and to have to think about leaving, I just wouldn't be able to imagine it.
Manny's friends and family rallied behind him, asking for his deportation to be at least temporarily suspended. Thanks to the community support, he was ultimately allowed to stay. He went on to college at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, OH.
Last month, Manny graduated with a major in political science and a minor in history. He was president of his fraternity and has been active in community service. For instance, for the last 4 years, he has organized a fundraiser to purchase Christmas presents for children with cancer at the Cleveland Clinic.
Here is what Manny says about his future:
I would go through any channel I have to to correct this situation. I'm not asking for citizenship [but] I would love to earn it if that possibility would
arise. ..... I would love to contribute to this country, give back to it. I just don't understand why they would educate people in my situation and deport them back and let countries reap the benefits of the education system here.
David Hogan is the chairman of the History Department at Heidelberg University. He says this about Manny:
We want good people in this country. We want honest, hard-working people, and that's Manny pure and simple. [He is] in the top two percent [of students] in terms of brilliance, work ethic, personal qualities.
Thanks to President Obama's executive order last Friday, Manny Bartsch and other DREAM Act students will continue to be able to live and work legally in America.
I ask the critics of that policy this: Would we be better off if we deported Manny back to Germany, a country he left when he was a little boy? Of course not.
Manny grew up in America. He doesn't have any criminal background. He is no threat to our country. He will make America stronger if we just give him a chance.
Manny isn't just one example. There are a lot more--literally hundreds, if not thousands, of others just like him.
When the history of civil rights in this century--the 21st century--is written, President Obama's decision to grant deferred action to DREAM Act students will be a key chapter.
But It is also clear this is only a temporary solution. It doesn't absolve Congress--the Senate and the House--from tackling this difficult but critically important issue. It is a matter of justice as well as for the future of our economy. This is still our burden and responsibility. It was 2 years ago when I sent this letter with Senator Lugar. I am grateful there was a President who read it and listened and had the courage to act. His courage in standing for these young people will make us a better nation, and, equally important, it will bend that arc toward justice again.
At the end of the day, these young people will make the case for why this was the right thing to do. I have no doubt in my mind that when the balance sheet comes in on these DREAM Act students, we are going to say thank goodness we did this. I personally salute the President for his leadership. This was a historic and humanitarian moment. It has changed the debate in America about immigration and has given these young people a chance.
I called one of those students on Friday, Gabby Pacheco. She is the best. She walked from Florida to Washington to dramatize the DREAM Act. She came out publicly and said: I am undocumented, and I will stand for those in a similar situation. She was crying on the phone. She just heard about it. She said: I am afraid these students will come forward and admit they are undocumented and someday some Congress and some President will use it against them and deport them. I said: Gabby, I don't think so. Once they stand and say we are going to follow the law and do what we are told to do and put our names down and tell you who we are, anybody who tries to use that against them is going to cause a terrific backlash across America. People in America will respect these young people and realize we will be a better nation because of it.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
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