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Public Statements

The DREAM Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, last Saturday was the first anniversary of a very historic day. On June 15, 2012, President Barack Obama announced he would grant temporary legal status to immigrant students who arrived in the United States as children. This status, known as deferred action for children arrivals, or DACA, allows these young people to live and work legally in America on a temporary basis without fear of deportation.

June 15, 2012, is a day I will never forget. It was personal. It was 12 years ago that I introduced legislation known as the DREAM Act. This bill gives immigrant students who grew up in this country a chance to earn their citizenship. I have worked hard to pass this bill for 12 years. During that time it has been my honor to meet hundreds of the young people who would be eligible for the DREAM Act.

I don't know when it started, but we started calling them, and they called themselves, the DREAMers. They were brought to the United States as children. They grew up in this country, and they have overcome some amazing obstacles. They are tomorrow's doctors, engineers, teachers, and soldiers. They are young people who will make America a better country. But for most of their young lives they have been trapped in a legal limbo, fearing that they could be deported away from their families, away from their homes, away from the only country they have ever called home with just a knock on the door. Yet they have developed amazing lives with great potential.

Incidentally, we have already invested in them. They were educated in America. They have a great potential to make this country even better for the future generations. It just doesn't make any sense to walk away from the talents they can bring to us.

In 2010, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana and I joined together across the aisle to ask the Obama administration to grant deferred action to DREAMers. President Obama wanted to give Congress a chance to act before using his Executive power, and he said: I know I have the authority, but let's see if you can pass the DREAM Act.

We brought it to the floor of the Senate. I remember that day. If I am not mistaken, it was a Saturday, and that gallery was filled. It was filled with young people in caps and gowns who were watching the debate on the floor of the Senate on the DREAM Act. We needed 60 votes because we faced a Republican filibuster. We have always faced a Republican filibuster.

Fifty-five Senators voted for it, which by most standards is a sufficient majority, but not by the Senate standard. We fell five votes short of defeating the filibuster.

I watched those students file out of those doors, and then I left the floor of the Chamber. I walked downstairs to meet with them. There was not a dry eye in the room. They had just watched their dreams disappear right here on the floor of the Senate--five votes short.

The House, in which the Presiding Officer was serving, had already passed the DREAM Act under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Howard Berman, Zoe Lofgren, and especially my colleague from Illinois, Luis Gutierrez. The House had risen to that challenge. We had our chance and fell short by five votes.

After that Republican filibuster of the DREAM Act, President Obama decided he needed to take charge. He established the deferred action for childhood arrivals to give those DREAMers and the thousands like them across the country a chance to come out of the shadows and be part of America.

What has happened since then? In the last year more than 539,000 have applied for DACA. So far about 365,000 applications have been granted; 140,000 applications are still being considered. I am proud to say my home State of Illinois has the third most DACA applicants, more than 28,000, and the third most DACA recipients, approximately 23,000 young people. It wasn't too surprising because shortly after the President announced his program, Congressman Luis Gutierrez and I held a gathering at the Navy Pier, which is kind of a seminal site in downtown Chicago.

We invited those who wanted to apply for this deferred action. We thought: What are we going to do if 400 or 500 people show up? Then we were worried no one would show up. We didn't know what to expect. Well, we knew the night before what was coming. The line started forming at midnight. At midnight these families stood there--mom, dad, and their son or daughter--waiting for a chance for that son or daughter to apply for this decision by President Obama of deferred action.

Many times the parents were undocumented themselves and even risked deportation by showing up. But the thought of saving a child in their family and giving that child a chance was enough for them to take the risk.

Well, it turned out over 12,000 people showed up. We were overwhelmed. We couldn't even come close to processing the applications that were involved. We knew then this was an idea whose time had come.

It is especially important to note the 1-year anniversary of President Obama's announcement as we consider what is going on on the floor of the Senate this week. We are debating comprehensive immigration reform.

The reality is that DACA is overwhelmingly popular with the American people. The American people--I have always trusted--have in their heart of hearts a goodness, an understanding, and a caring. They saw these young people brought here as babies, infants, as little children, and they knew they had not made the decision to come here, but their parents made the decision to come here. If anybody did anything wrong, violated any law, overstayed a visa, whatever the circumstances, it wasn't the child, it was the parent. They understand the basic element of justice not just in America but in life, and it is this: You don't hold a child responsible for the wrongdoing of a parent. Most Americans understood that and want to give these young people a chance.

On election day last year, Hispanic Americans voted overwhelmingly in favor of President Barack Obama. There were many Republican Members of Congress, including my good friend Senator John McCain of Arizona, who heard that message loudly and clearly, and that--in no small part--is why we are considering comprehensive immigration reform today. Within this bill is the DREAM Act, and not just the DREAM Act, but the strongest version of the DREAM Act that has ever been written.

It is also important to note what happened to the DREAMers in the last year. These young Americans were finally able to work legally in America and have already stepped forward to contribute their talents. The Center for American Progress and the bipartisan Partnership for a New American Economy has concluded that giving legal status to DREAMers will add $329 billion to America's economy and create 1.4 million new jobs by 2030.

The economic benefit of legalizing 11 million undocumented could be even greater.

According to the study by the Center for American Progress, if comprehensive immigration reform becomes law, undocumented immigrants will increase their earnings by 15 percent over 5 years, leading to $832 billion in economic growth and $109 billion in increased tax revenues--money that will be paid by the currently undocumented immigrants who will become legally part of America in the next 10 years. It will also create an estimated 120,000 jobs every single year--a growth engine. It always has been a growth engine in America. This Nation of immigrants, when it builds on the strength and commitment of newcomers, is a stronger and better Nation and continues to lead the world. How could we have forgotten that lesson of history?

Conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin recently concluded immigration reform would actually reduce Federal deficits by $2.7 trillion, add a full percentage point to our economic growth, and raise GDP per capita by approximately $1,700.

I started several years ago coming to the floor of the Senate to not just speak about the DREAM Act but to tell the stories of DREAMers. It was something I came to do because I finally witnessed their courage and realized I had to share it here on the floor of the Senate. When I first started talking about the DREAM Act and undocumented young people who could be deported in a moment, torn away from their families and their lives and sent to a place they could never remember, facing a language they couldn't speak, they would very quietly wait until my meeting was over and come out of the darkness by my car as I was leaving and say, Senator, I am one of those kids who would be helped by the DREAM Act. They didn't want anyone to see them for fear of being deported. But over time they came to realize that standing up, with the courage to tell their stories, they risked deportation but they put a face on this issue. It wasn't some politician giving a speech, it was a real life, and that is what they did. As they came forward to tell their stories with their courage, I came to the floor of the Senate.

I wish to take a moment now to thank a man who is sitting to my right, Joe Zogby. Joe has been a staffer on this issue from the beginning, and when it passes I know he will celebrate just as I do, understanding, as I do, the lives that will be impacted by this decision if the DREAM Act becomes the law of the land.

These DREAMers are an amazing group. The stories I told on the floor included DREAMers who grew up in 17 different States, from Arizona and Texas in the Southwest, Missouri and Ohio in the Midwest, and North Carolina and Georgia in the Southeast. These talented young people came to America from all over the world--19 different countries represented--and from every continent except Antarctica. Yet all of them share something in common: America is their home. They are only asking for a chance to give back to their home.

Today I wish to spend a minute or two to update the Senate on what has happened to some of these DREAMers since they received DACA--this deferred status--last year.

Angelica Hernandez was brought to America when she was 9 years old. Two years ago, Angelica graduated from Arizona State University as the outstanding senior in the mechanical engineering department with a 4.1 GPA. Angelica just finished her first year of graduate school at Stanford University where she is working on a master's degree in civil and environmental engineering with a focus on energy. Her dream is to dedicate her career to developing renewable energy. After receiving DACA, because of the President's Executive order, this summer Angelica will work at Enphase Energy, a solar energy startup company.

This is Pierre Berastain. Pierre and his sister were brought to the United States from Peru in 1998 when they were children. Pierre didn't speak a word of English when he arrived in Texas, but he went on to receive a bachelor's degree with honors from Harvard University. He is currently pursuing a master's degree at Harvard Divinity School. Two years ago, Pierre cofounded the Restorative Justice Collaborative, a nonprofit organization which involves criminal offenders in the process of repairing the harm they have done. Since he received DACA, Pierre was awarded one of only 10 Harvard Presidential Public Service Fellowships so he can expand this organization.

This is Carlos Martinez. Carlos and his brother were brought to the United States when he was only 9 years old. He graduated with honors with a bachelor of science degree in computer engineering from the University of Arizona. Carlos received job offers from Intel, IBM, and many high-tech companies, but he couldn't work because he was undocumented. So he went on to get a master's degree in software systems engineering at the University of Arizona. After receiving DACA, Carlos is finally able to work in America as an engineer. This Wednesday he will start a new job with IBM, a company that first tried to hire him 6 years ago when he was undocumented. Out of more than 10,000 applicants who applied to IBM, Carlos Martinez was 1 of only 75 people they hired.

This is Nelson and Jhon Magdaleno. They came to the State of Georgia from Venezuela when Nelson was 11 and Jhon was 9. Nelson and Jhon went to Georgia Tech University, one of the most selective engineering schools in America. Nelson graduated with an honors degree in computer engineering and Jhon is currently an honor student majoring in chemical and biomolecular engineering. After receiving deferred action, Jhon is working at a biomedical engineering lab at Georgia Tech researching glaucoma. He recently secured an internship with Eastman Chemical Company. Nelson is now working at Texas Instruments, one of America's top high-tech companies.

Ola Kaso was brought to the United States from Albania at the age of 5. What a superstar. Valedictorian of her high school class, she is now a pre-med student in the honors program at the University of Michigan. Her dream is to become a surgical oncologist. Can we use more of those? You bet. In 2011, I invited Ola to testify at a hearing on the DREAM Act. She was the first undocumented immigrant to openly testify before the Senate. It took amazing courage for this young woman. After receiving deferred action this spring, Ola interned in the office of my colleague and friend Senator Carl Levin.

This is someone those following the debate may recognize: Tolu Olubumni was brought to the United States from Nigeria when she was a child. In 2002, Tolu graduated with a degree in chemical engineering from Washington and Lee University in Virginia. For 10 years--10 years after graduating from college--Tolu couldn't work as an engineer. She spent her time working to pass the DREAM Act. Since receiving the deferred action, Tolu is working as an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform with the Center for Community Change. Last week, Tolu was introduced to America. She had the honor of introducing President Obama at a White House event on immigration reform.

I met with the President last week. I asked him

about those DREAMers. He said they came into the Oval Office and met with him, and he said there were tears in everyone's eyes as they realized the opportunity these young people might finally get if we pass comprehensive immigration reform.

This is Erika Andiola. Erika was brought to our country from Mexico when she was 11 years old. She graduated with honors from Arizona State with a bachelor's degree in psychology. Erika was the founder and president of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition, an immigration group advocating for the passage of the bill. She received DACA and has since been working in Congress. She is the district outreach director for one of the Arizona delegation's newest members, Representative KRYSTEN SINEMA.

Now I want my colleagues to meet Carlos and Rafael Robles. Carlos and Rafael were brought to the United States as children. They grew up in suburban Chicago in my home State of Illinois. They were both honor students at Palatine High School and Harper Community College. Carlos is now attending the University of Chicago majoring in education. With DACA, Carlos can pursue his dream to become a teacher and he will have the opportunity to student-teach in a suburban high school in the Chicagoland area. Rafael is at the University of Illinois in Chicago where he is majoring in architecture. After receiving DACA, he is working at Studio Gang Architects, an award-winning architectural firm in the great city of Chicago.

This is Jose Magana. Jose was brought to the United States from Mexico at the age of 2. He graduated valedictorian of his high school. He is the first member of his family to attend college. In 2008, he graduated summa cum laude from Arizona State University with a major in business management. He went on to graduate from Baylor University Law School. After receiving DACA, Jose began working with the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, a leading civil rights organization. This week, Jose will be sworn in as a member of the bar which he was unable to do before President Obama's Executive order 1 year ago.

To hear the stories of these amazing young people is to realize the benefits immigration has always meant for America. Imagine what will happen when 11 million undocumented immigrants have the opportunity to come out of the shadows and be part of America. Like these DREAMers, they will be able to contribute even more to this country they worked so hard to come to and worked so hard to stay in and now call home. Legalization will unleash the earning potential for millions of people. They will be able to pursue jobs and manage the skills they have instead of working and being exploited in the underground economy. It is the right thing to do and it will make America stronger.

It was so disappointing last week when the Republicans in the House of Representatives passed an amendment to cut off funding for this program. That is right. All of these young people who have received a chance--the first chance ever to be part of America's future--would have the program shut down by a vote last week in the House of Representatives. Supporters of this amendment want to deport these young people. They make no bones about it. They believe they should leave. Their belief is that if these DREAMers are forced out of the country and deported to some other country, we will be a stronger Nation because of that. What are they thinking, to lose people such as Carlos Martinez and Tolu Olubumni? These young people can make a positive difference for America. It is shameless, absolutely shameless, to play with the lives of these young people. These are people who need a chance. They don't need to be the victims of some political gambit. It would be bad for America's future if they leave. We couldn't possibly be stronger if Angelica Hernandez could not continue to work on future renewable sources of energy and Ola Kaso could no longer be the researcher in cancer she wants to be.

The answer is clear: We need to pass comprehensive immigration reform on a bipartisan basis right here in the Senate. We have waited way too long. For over 25 years this broken immigration system has not done these people justice nor has it done America justice.

During the next 2 weeks the Senate will conclude one of its most historic debates on comprehensive immigration reform. It has been over 4 months that I have been actively involved in this Gang of 8--four Democrats and four Republican Senators. We have had over 30 sitdown meetings, face to face. Many of them went smoothly, as did the discussion of the DREAM Act; some of them not so smoothly. We disagreed, and some of the disagreements were pretty vocal. At the end of the day, though, we realized we had a larger responsibility that went beyond any single difference of opinion we might have. We reached a bipartisan agreement. Now the question is, can the Senate hold that agreement together, on the floor of the Senate, when the amendment process begins, and next week when we face a vote.

The values and principles that underlie this agreement are fundamental and critical. They include a path to citizenship not only for these young people but for many of their parents. They have to come out of the shadows, up to 11 million of them, and identify themselves to a government they have feared their whole lives. They have to register with this government and then submit themselves to a criminal background check. If they are found to have a serious problem in their background, they are gone. They don't have a chance to become legal in America. But if they pass that background check, they have to pay a substantial fine, pay their taxes, and then learn English and be monitored during the course of 10 years--10 years--in probationary status. During that period, they can work legally in America--they won't be deported--and they can travel without fear of being stopped at the border. Then, at the end of 10 years, if they have met all of the standards, all of the scrutiny, if they have paid the fines and paid their taxes, they will have a chance for a 3- to 5-year path to citizenship. It is a long process. For many of them, it will be a great sacrifice, but they have offered great sacrifices with their lives already.

On the other side, we have agreed with our Republican colleagues to do even more in our power to make sure our border with Mexico is as strong as humanly possible and to make certain our immigration system is changed so we don't face this debate every 5, 10, or 25 years.

I think it is a good bill. There are parts of it I am very proud of, some parts of it I do not like at all, but that is the nature of a compromise, that is how you get something done.

I look around this institution, and I realize how important this issue is, but I also realize how important this issue is to the Senate. If I asked the people of America, what do you think about Congress these days, I think I would know the answer. Somebody said our approval rating just broke double digits again. We are up to 10 percent of the American people who think we might be worth having. That must include a lot of our relatives and close friends that we made it up to 10 percent.

We better prove something on the floor of the Senate over the next 2 weeks. We better prove that we can work together, Democrats and Republicans; that we will not break down and fall apart over one issue or the other; that we will keep our focus on getting this job done.

Then we need to turn to our colleagues and friends in the U.S. House of Representatives and tell them they face the same historic responsibility we faced. I have heard a lot of speculation about what might happen in the House. Let's just focus on the Senate for the next 2 weeks. Let's do our part and do our job and let the American people witness this process as it should be. If we are successful at the end of next week and pass this legislation, then let the American people speak up to the Members of the House of Representatives. Let them hear from their districts and the people they represent what they feel about the importance of this issue when it comes to immigration reform. I am confident, as I said earlier, that deep in their hearts, the American people are good people, they know our roots, they know our story, they know our origin.

I stand here today as the son of an immigrant. My mother came to this country at the age of 2. She was a DREAMer in her day. Her mom brought her to the Port of Baltimore, put her on a train, and they linked up with my grandfather in East Saint Louis, IL. Upstairs in my office is my mother's naturalization certificate. It is proudly displayed because I want people to know who I am and where I came from. It is my story, it is my family's story, but it is America's story that the son of an immigrant can be standing on the floor of the Senate representing the great State of Illinois and speaking to the next generation of immigrants to America and the difference they can make.

This is our opportunity. We know America will be a stronger and better nation when we do it.

Thank you, Mr. President.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

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