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Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, people wonder as they watch the Senate how bills get started. One of the bills that I have worked on probably the hardest in my career got started 11 years ago when there was a phone call to my Senate office in Chicago. It was a phone call from a friend of ours, Duffie Adleson, who was managing a program called the Merit Music Program.

It is a wonderful program in Chicago that offers opportunities for free musical instruments and free music lessons for kids from some of the poorest schools in town. The net result of it is a life-changing experience. One hundred of the Merit Music Program graduates go on to college. It is transformative.

Well, she had a story to tell me. It was about a young lady named Tereza Lee, Korean, who was a child prodigy when it came to the piano. She played it so well she had been offered many scholarships, including to the Manhattan Conservatory of Music. When she went to fill out her application, one of the questions was, What is your citizenship or nationality?

She turned to her mother and said: What is it, Mom? Her mom said: I do not know. You see, they brought Tereza to America when she was 2 years old on a visitor's visa. Her mom said: We never filed anything after that.

Mom and dad became citizens. Brother and sister born here automatically became citizens, but Tereza was a question mark. What am I? So she called Duffie. Duffie called the office, and we checked the law.

The law said Tereza Lee, who had lived in the United States for 16 years, had to leave for 10 years and after 10 years could apply to come back into the United States. She did not know where she would go. Her family had come to Chicago from Brazil, originally from Korea. There was no place to go, no other language that she spoke. This was the only country she ever knew.

So I wrote a bill and called it the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act said young people like her should be given a chance to become legal in America, to earn their way into legal status. The bill basically laid out some conditions: First, that they came to the United States as a child; second, they completed high school; third, they have no significant problems of moral character or a criminal record to speak of, and beyond that they had to do one of two things: finish at least 2 years of college or enlist in the American military.

Well, when I introduced this bill it was bipartisan. In fact, as many as 13 Republican Senators would vote with me. But we never quite got to that magic number of 60 votes in the Senate. We would get a majority but never quite get 60 votes. Then over the years this political issue started changing. Unfortunately, we started losing support on the Republican side of the aisle. Even those who were the original cosponsors of the bill started voting against it. They heard the talk about amnesty and all the criticism. They were swept into the belief that this should not pass.

But the bill is still very much alive, and it is the most important thing I have pending in the Senate, and has been for a long time. What it does, of course, is offer this opportunity.

I want to salute Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. He is a new Republican Senator, conservative, who took a look at this issue and said this is not an immigration issue; this is a humanitarian issue. We should offer these young people a chance, a chance to earn their way into legal status.

He is right. He remembered when 600,000 Cubans left to come to America to escape Castro's regime it was not the immigration system that welcomed them; it was the humanitarian effort by the United States to allow them to find a home. What a difference they have made, a positive difference in this country, not just in Florida but all over the country.

Look at Marco Rubio, a man who now represents Florida in the Senate. It was his father and grandfather who made it here because of that humanitarian gesture. He and I and many others are working now to try to find a bipartisan way to put this together again.

I have come to the floor countless times--dozens of times--to ask my colleagues to think about this issue in real human terms. Almost every week I come and tell the story of one of the students who would be affected by the DREAM Act. When I started on this issue, the DREAM Act students would hide in the shadows. They would wait in the darkness by my car to tell me: I am one of those undocumented immigrants. I am one of those students who has no place to go.

Well, times have changed. They are now stepping up and saying: Look at me. Know who I am. Realize, as Senator Menendez has said on the floor many times, these are young people who spent their entire lives with their hands over their hearts pledging allegiance to the only country they ever knew. They only know one national anthem, and it is ours. They think it is theirs. But technically, legally, they have no legal standing.

Let me introduce you to a young man who has a great story. His name is Novi Roy. He grew up in Illinois. He was brought to the United States from India as a child. He was an especially good student. Novi attended Evanston Township High School just north of Chicago, graduated with a 3.9 grade point average.

During high school he volunteered working in the soup kitchen in Rogers Park and continues to do that even today. He went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which we are pretty proud of, and he graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics. Just last month he had two master's degrees awarded to him, one in business administration and one in human resources. He is 24 years old now.

His dream is to work in the health care field to try to provide health care protection to people who don't have it today. He said this in a letter he wrote me:

I love America for all its opportunities and, like any other aspiring student, I want a chance to realize the American dream. I owe the State of Illinois, its taxpayers, and America a huge debt of gratitude for the level of education I have attained thus far. I am confident that my education will serve me well enough to make a difference in people's lives [and] there is nothing I [would] like more than to give back to the community that has been so good to me.
For the record, Novi, because he is DREAM Act eligible, is not eligible for Federal assistance for education. These young people, DREAM Act students, have to work harder, borrow a lot more money, if they can, or save it, and it will take longer to get through. But they do it anyway because they are so determined to have a good life.

Novi has been offered jobs with Fortune 100 companies, but he cannot work legally in America because he is undocumented. Novi came to the United States legally, and his family applied for legal permanent resident status. When their application was denied, Novi was placed in deportation proceedings.

He never committed a crime. He grew up in this country. We have already invested in Novi, obviously, with an outstanding education from a great university. He has a potential to make America a better place. Despite these facts, even at this moment, Novi could be deported from the United States.

In his letter to me, he said this about that possibility:

I have never entered the U.S. illegally, nor broken any of its laws at any time. Unfortunately, my immigration case has simply fallen through the cracks. I have lived here in Illinois for the last 10 years, and my entire identity is exclusively based on my life in the U.S. I have nothing to go back to--no friends, no family, nothing. America is my home.

My office contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement and asked them to consider Novi's request that his deportation be placed on hold. We just learned yesterday this request had been granted. But the decision to put Novi's deportation on hold is temporary. It doesn't give Novi permanent legal status, and he still is at risk of deportation in the future. The only way for Novi to become a citizen is for the DREAM Act to become law.

Would America be stronger and better if Novi Roy was deported? Of course not. He has all these years of education and his graduation from Evanston Township High School with a high GPA, two degrees from the University of Illinois, and we would let him leave and go to some other country and use his talents to make their country better? That makes no sense.

He has overcome great odds to achieve the great success he has so far. He doesn't have any criminal background problems or pose any threats to this country. He would make America a better place.

Novi is not an isolated example. There are literally thousands of others just like him around the country.

The DREAM Act would give Novi and other bright, accomplished, and ambitious young people like him the chance to become America's future entrepreneurs, doctors, engineers, teachers, and soldiers.

Today, I again ask my colleagues to support the DREAM Act. Let's give Novi Roy and so many other young people like him a chance to contribute more completely to the country they call home. It is the right thing to do, and it will make America stronger.


Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, last week during the Senate recess I traveled overseas to four countries: Ukraine, Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia. It was a lot of ground to cover in 5 days in a region with considerable history and great, challenging issues.

Before I go further on the matter, let me say for the record how impressed I am with the men and women who work representing the United States overseas. The ambassadors, all of their staff, the consular service, the military attaches, and those working through the Department of Agriculture do us proud every day. Many make a personal sacrifice to represent our country. They are on the front line.

I thank Ambassador John Tefft in Ukraine, Ambassador Ricciardone in Turkey, Ambassador Bass in Georgia, and Ambassador Heffern in Armenia for their public service. They are a reminder of why the relatively small amount of money we spend on our diplomatic and foreign assistance efforts makes a big difference in the world.

A visit through this region is a reminder of the legacy of the Soviet Union and the challenges facing countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, and Armenia as they try to rebuild independent and democratic nations. They inherited an environmental degradation that had been virtually destroyed by the Soviet Union, with broken economies built on a failed Soviet model and weak political and governing institutions. Sadly, these countries are not just trying to build modern nations, but must at times face continued and increased pressure from Russia on issues such as security and energy.

Ukraine is a good example when it comes to energy. They continue even though they face pressures from Russia to look west to the European Union, the United States, and NATO. They long to be in partnerships with the United States. We need to support that relationship, as well as the programs that help them transition away from the Soviet-era legacy.

There isn't enough time to cover all the issues facing these countries, but I will mention a few.

In Ukraine there has been a troubling development recently that threatens to overshadow so much of the economic and democratic progress they have made in recent decades. Specifically, this government currently in control has jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko over her alleged wrongdoing regarding a contract for natural gas with Russia. Many people have read about her detention and hunger strike.

One need not agree with policy decisions of former politicians--and I am not here to judge whether that gas contract was sound, but I can say in a democracy one should not make a practice of jailing political opponents. It kind of discourages people from running.

Doing so has the bad taste of Lukashenko's dictatorship in neighboring Belarus--not exactly the model a modern democratic Ukraine should follow. I have seen that firsthand where, the day after his election, the last dictator in Europe jailed all of his political opponents. Talk about discouraging people from running for office.

As long as no criminal activity occurred, in a democracy voters should decide at the ballot box if they did or didn't like policy decisions of an elected official.

I had a heart-breaking discussion with Tymoshenko's

daughter Eugenia. I was deeply troubled by some of the stories I heard about her mother's detention.

I also had a hopeful meeting with Prime Minister Azarov and President Yanukovich on many issues of shared U.S. and Ukrainian cooperation, as well as the Tymoshenko detention. They are going to move on a timely basis to deal with this detention, and I assured them that the West was watching closely. I hope she will be released from her detention as quickly as possible.

My second stop was in Turkey. I have been there several times before. It is a growing power in a region and the world, a thriving Muslim democracy and a strong NATO partner of the United States.

Turkey most recently agreed to build an important NATO radar base on its soil, an installation that is absolutely critical in keeping an eye on Iran and its nuclear ambitions. It was a hard decision by Turkey to agree to this installation for NATO, and they made it. I thank them for that. It makes the world a safer place.

Turkey is hosting on its border more than 20,000 refugees who have fled the violence in Syria. I visited one of these refugee camps in the town of Kilis. Almost 10,000 refugees--more than 60 percent of them women and children--were given a good, clean safe place to stay there, education for the kids, as well as health care.

The Turkish Government needs to be commended for the generous hospitality and kindness they provided to their Syrian neighbors fleeing Syrian President Assad's brutality. I wonder if the United States would be as welcoming under those circumstances. Well, Turkey has been and they should be commended for it.

I spoke with many of the Syrians in the camp, and they told me deeply troubling stories about the violence they faced and why they had to leave everything behind and flee to a neighboring country. They were worried about family and friends who are still in Syria--particularly given the massacre reported last week in Houla.

The international community must do more to end the violence and foster a representative transition to democracy in Syria.

I have to note for the record that I saw my colleague, John McCain, on the Senate floor. He, Senator Lieberman, and others have been to the same place and have met with refugees and have strong feelings about Syria. I have to say, and I said this to the Syrian opposition I met with, I don't believe there is an appetite in America for invading another Muslim country or sending in our Army. We are war weary after more than 10 years at it. What we are looking for is an international organization or others who will join in the effort to stop Bashir al-Assad.

We encouraged Russia to step up. It has always had a special relationship with Syria. If Russia can bring the various parties together and end the violence and start a transition away from the brutality of Bashir al-Assad, it will be in the best interest of Russia and of the world.

The Arab League needs to raise its voice about solving those problems in Syria. We cannot let Assad bring any further embarrassment to the nations around the world. He has proven himself unworthy of the support of Russia or any country.

I urge Russia to join the United States and Turkey and others to find a timely way forward in Syria.

Georgia and Armenia are two other friends of the United States. In Georgia, President Saakashvili has made great progress on democratic and economic reforms. He was a leader in the Rose Revolution. His term is ending soon, and I hope the ensuing election will serve as a model for the region.

We should also not forget one important thing about Georgia. It is still dealing with the aftereffects of the 2008 war with Russia that resulted in the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I investigated the South Ossetia borderline, and I saw the permanent Russian facility there. It is clear that Putin is trying to create a provocative environment within Georgia today.

We need to take steps to make sure the EU six-point plan is worked out--a plan that wasn't implemented after the war. I hope displaced persons and communities in South Ossetia and those in Abkhazia as well will have a chance to be reintegrated back into Georgia where they belong.

We need to take the steps to eliminate and reduce unnecessary human suffering. The EU has an important monitoring mission there, and I urge Russia and Georgia to work with them.

One last point about Georgia is that a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, stationed at Tbilisi in our Embassy, reported on what is a phenomenal thing going on. Georgia is not in NATO. President Obama has said they can be, and will be, and should be. At this moment, Georgia is contributing more forces and soldiers per capita than any nation on Earth to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. A lieutenant colonel in our Marine Corps, who is training Georgian soldiers, said they were great fighters. He went on to say: If you want to know how I can prove that, I am sending them to Afghanistan to stand next to our U.S. Marines and help us in the fight. That is as great an endorsement any marine could give to another fighting soldier.

Lastly, Armenia. There are so many Armenians across America who have made such a profound impact on our Nation--in fact, around the world. The diaspora of Armenian citizens is larger than the current population of that nation. They have lived through terrible brutality and loss of life. The genocide that occurred in the beginning of the last century may have claimed as many as 1.5 million lives as Armenians were displaced from eastern Turkey, and it is a legacy they will always remember.

I visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial and Museum to pay tribute and acknowledge the great loss of life that Armenia has suffered. There was a special tribute to Clara Barton, who may be remembered in American history for her work in establishing nursing and health care. She went late in her life--in her seventies--to Armenia to provide that same kind of assistance. She is given special recognition in the Government of Armenia today. The Armenian Genocide Memorial pays tribute to the many Armenians who died during this terrible period and the courageous leadership of those countries that went forward after their painful past.

I called on the President of Turkey, when I visited him, as I did several years ago, to work closely with the Armenians to try to resolve past differences and make an honest acknowledgement of the history between the two countries and try to work out a peaceful and cooperative


Mr. President, one encounter in Armenia in particular gave me hope that such a path forward is possible. I met with six Armenians who had participated in U.S.-supported cross-border reconciliation programs with Turkey. They were artists, journalists, business entrepreneurs, filmmakers, and high school students. Some of their stories were deeply moving.

One high school student named Victoria talked about the summer camp she visited in Vermont with Turkish high school counterparts and how they broke through stereotypes and started friendships. The filmmaker talked about joint films made with Turkish counterparts and then shown at the Istanbul Film Festival. An entrepreneur in Armenia talked about a service he set up to help businesspeople from Turkey work in Armenia and invest there.

These stories gave me hope that some of the painful wounds between these countries can be healed.

Let me close by saying what a reminder these countries are of the importance still played by American leadership all over the world. At a time with so many economic and security challenges around the world, now is not the time for the United States to retreat from the global stage.

I support the President's ending of the war in Iraq. I believe we should remove our troops from Afghanistan as quickly as possible. I know we have to remain engaged. The world still looks to us for leadership and values that they can build their countries' future on as well.


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