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Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I rise today to discuss a disturbing article which most of us saw on the front page of the Washington Post. It is entitled ``In Niger, hunger crisis raises fears of more child marriages.'' It was written by Sudarsan Raghavan. The article highlights child marriages around the world. It is a human rights atrocity that steals the future, the health, and the lives of little girls and even boys in many developing countries.
In many of these countries girls are treated like chattel or commodities, sold into marriages with older men to settle debts or for dowries to help families survive. In Niger--the focus of the Post article--a famine is raising fears that more families will turn to that practice and marry off their little girls to gain economic security and even survival.
Niger happens to have the highest prevalence of child marriage with one out of two girls marrying before the age of 15, and some are as young as 7.
Can you imagine? Women, look around you. If you see another woman, know that in Niger one of you would have been married before you were 15 years old. That is exactly what happened to Balki Souley.
Balki Souley was married at 12 years of age. Let me show this poster of her. She is now 14. She recently lost her first child during childbirth at age 14. She almost died herself. Her small body was just too frail to handle the difficulty of facing labor. While Niger has the world's highest rate of child marriage, it is not the only place this scourge occurs. It can be found all over the world and is most prevalent in Africa and southern Asia.
Recently the Senate acted to ensure that the U.S. government is adequately addressing this global human rights tragedy by passing the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act. Senator Olympia Snowe and I were joined by a bipartisan group of 34 Senators in introducing this legislation. We have now passed this legislation in the Senate not once but twice.
Unfortunately, despite the bipartisan support for this bill in the Senate, the Republican leadership in the House refuses to act on this legislation. With every day that failure in the House continues, more and more little girls around the world, such as Balki are forced into early marriage.
This means more girls in developing countries will lose their freedom, have their childhood innocence stolen, and may, in fact, lose their lives. It means more young girls will be forced into sexual relationships with men two or three times their age, and it means more girls will suffer the devastating and often deadly health consequences that accompany forced child marriage such as sexually transmitted diseases and birth complications for the child and mother.
That is not what America stands for. I am calling on Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to bring this bill to a vote in the House immediately.
Read the article, consider the photographs in the Post and other places. The lives of these girls in developing countries across the world are literally in your hands.
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Mr. DURBIN. Eleven years ago, I introduced the DREAM Act. It was legislation to allow a select group of young immigrant students with great potential to be a bigger part of America. The DREAM Act gave the students a chance to earn their way into legal status. It wasn't automatic. They had to come to the United States as children, be long-term residents, have good moral character, graduate from high school, and complete at least 2 years of college or military service.
It has had a strong history of bipartisan support over 11 years. I first introduced it with my Republican lead sponsor, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, when it was first introduced. When the Republicans last controlled the Congress, the DREAM Act passed the Senate in a 62-to-36 vote with 23 Republicans voting yes. It was part of comprehensive immigration reform. Unfortunately, that bill didn't pass.
The Republican support for the DREAM Act diminished for political reasons. The vast majority of Democrats, despite our support, can't stop a Republican filibuster when the bill has been called for consideration. I am still committed to the DREAM Act. I am committed to work with any Republican or any Democrat who wants to help me pass this important legislation.
Even though we have to wait on Congress to act, these young people who would benefit from the DREAM Act can't wait any longer. Unfortunately, many are now being deported or at least they were. They don't remember the places they are being deported to, and certainly in many instances they don't speak the language. Those still here are at risk of deportation themselves. They can't get a job and find it difficult to go to school. They have no support from the government in terms of their education.
That is why President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano decided the Obama administration would no longer deport young people who are eligible for the DREAM Act. Instead, the administration said they would permit these students to apply for a form of relief known as ``deferred action'' which puts on hold deportations and allows them--on a temporary, renewable basis--to live and work in America. I strongly support this decision. I think it will go down in history as one of the more significant civil rights decisions of our era, and I salute President Obama for his courage in reaching this conclusion.
Remember that the students we are talking about didn't come to this country because of a family decision. They were brought here as babies and as children. As Secretary Napolitano said, immigrants who are brought here illegally as children ``lack the intent to violate the law.'' It is not the American way to punish kids for their parents' wrongdoing.
The Obama administration's new policy will make America a stronger country by giving these talented immigrants a chance to contribute more fully to the economy. Studies have found that DREAM Act students can contribute literally trillions of dollars to the U.S. economy during their working lives. They will be our future doctors and engineers and soldiers and teachers. They will make us a stronger Nation.
Let me be very clear: The Obama administration's new policy is clearly lawful and appropriate. Throughout our history, the government has decided who they will prosecute and who they will not based on law enforcement priorities and available resources. Previous administrations in both political parties have made those decisions on deportations, and the Supreme Court recognizes the right of a President to decide what agency will make a decision to prosecute or not prosecute. Listen to what the Supreme Court said in a recent opinion on Arizona's immigration law:
A principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials ..... Discretion in the enforcement of immigration law embraces immediate human concerns.
The administration's policy isn't just legal; it is smart and realistic. There are millions of undocumented immigrants in the country. It would take literally billions of dollars to deport all of them. It will never happen. So the Department of Homeland Security has to set priorities. The Obama administration has established a deportation policy that makes it a high priority to deport those who have committed serious crimes or who may be a threat to public safety. The administration said it is not a high priority to deport DREAM Act students. I think the administration has its priorities right.
This isn't amnesty. It is simply a decision to focus limited government resources on those who have committed serious crimes and to basically say to DREAM Act students: You have an opportunity to remain here in a legally recognized, temporary, and renewable status.
That policy has strong support in Congress. It was Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, who joined me 2 years ago in writing to President Obama to ask him to do this. Last year Senator Lugar and I were joined by 20 other Senators who stood together with us, including majority leader Harry Reid, Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, and Senator Bob Menendez.
According to recent polls, the American people think the President made the right decision. For example, a Bloomberg poll found that 64 percent of likely voters, including 66 percent of Independents, support the President's policy on DREAM Act students compared to 30 percent--less than half--who oppose it.
Some Republicans outside Congress have also expressed support. For example, Mark Shurtleff, the attorney general of Utah, said:
This is clearly within the president's power. I was pleased when the president announced it ..... until Congress acts, we'll be left with too many people to deport. The administration is saying, Here's is a group we can be spending our resources going after, but why? They're Americans, they see themselves as Americans, they love this country!
Mark Shurtleff, Attorney General of Utah.
It is easy to criticize the President's policy on the DREAM Act in the abstract. What I have tried to do on a regular basis is to introduce those who follow the Senate proceedings to the actual students who are affected by this.
One of them is Kelsey Burke. Kelsey was brought to the United States from Honduras at the age of 10. Her family settled in Lake Worth, FL, where she started school in the sixth grade. By the time she was in eighth grade, she was taking advanced placement classes. She was accepted into the Criminal Justice Magnet Program at Lake Worth High School. She developed a passion for the law and started to dream about becoming an attorney. She continued to take honors classes and then enrolled in college at Palm Beach State College. She graduated from high school with a 3.4 GPA, a criminal justice certificate, and already 15 college credits.
In 2008, Kelsey was granted temporary protected status which allows immigrants to remain in the United States temporarily because it is unsafe for them to return to their home country. With temporary protected status, Kelsey is able to work legally, although she is still not eligible to stay here permanently or to become a citizen. After she began working, Kelsey was able to afford college. Keep in mind Kelsey and other DREAM Act students are not eligible for Federal student loans or any other Federal financial aid. Going to college for them is harder than it is for most kids.
While working full-time, Kelsey went to Florida Atlantic University, graduating with a major in public communications and a minor in sociology. She was indeed the first member of her family to graduate from high school and college. She now works as a paralegal at a law firm in Palm Beach County. She is very active in her community. She serves on the board of the Hispanic Bar Association, volunteers at the neighborhood community center, and coaches youth soccer. Her dream is to become a U.S. citizen, and she wants to be an attorney. Of course, not being a citizen is an obstacle to her ever becoming a member of the legal profession in this country. Here is what she said when she wrote to me:
I desire to help others pursue their passion, to fight for their dreams, and to make a positive difference ..... Others forgot where they came from and how their ancestors got here; and what coming to America represents. I have been blessed and want to use my knowledge and experience to help other immigrant families.
I am a child of one of those immigrants. My mother was an immigrant to this country. I now have been honored to serve in the U.S. Senate, a first-generation American. I am proud of my mother's immigrant heritage and my heritage as well. In my office behind my desk is my mother's naturalization certificate. At about age 23 she became a citizen. I keep that certificate there as a reminder of my family roots and a reminder of this great country. It is the immigrant contribution to America that adds to our diversity, gives us strength, and I think brings a lot of special people to our shores who are willing to make great sacrifices to be part of this great Nation.
These young people affected by the DREAM Act were too young to make that conscious decision, but the parents who brought them here weren't, and they were making that decision for them. Now we want these young people to have a chance for their generation to make this a stronger Nation. I ask my colleagues: Would we be better off if Kelsey were asked to leave? I don't think so. I think her having grown up in this country and overcome so many obstacles is an indication of what a strong-willed and talented young woman she is. We need so many more just like her.
The President has given Kelsey and others some breathing space here with his decision on the DREAM Act. Now it is time for us to accept the responsibility not only to deal with the DREAM Act but also to deal with the immigration question. We cannot run away from the fact that it is unresolved and has been for years. We need to work together on a bipartisan basis to make certain we have an immigration system that is fair, reasonable, and will continue to build this great Nation of immigrants, bringing to the shores of this country those who have made such a difference in the past and will in the future.
I thank all of my colleagues, including the Presiding Officer, for his strong support of the DREAM Act. The President's decision has given us a new opportunity to introduce these young people to America in a legal, protected status on a renewable basis.
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