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Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Department of Homeland Security Funding

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2015-01-21

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, in the aftermath of the recent terror attacks in France, it is tough to know what the House of Representatives is thinking. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives threatened to shut down the Department of Homeland Security. That is the government agency responsible for protecting America from the threat of terrorism.

    Why are we debating full funding for the Department of Homeland Security? Every other government agency, I might add, has been properly funded through the omnibus bill. But the Republicans insisted on not funding the Department of Homeland Security, which fights terrorism in the regular orderly appropriations process. They insisted this Department be funded only through the end of February. Does that mean that America is safe from terrorism? I wish it were true. But we know that we are only one terrorist away from a terrible incident in America.

    One of the Departments with the major responsibility of protecting us is the Department of Homeland Security. So why did the Republicans decide they wanted to make the funding of this Department uncertain and contingent? Well, the reason was they are so angry with President Obama's Executive order on immigration that they are putting America at risk by failing to properly fund the Department of Homeland Security. Then last week, the bill the House passed made the appropriation for this Department contingent on five riders. A rider is an addition. It is language that doesn't relate to a budget or appropriation, and it relates to the Executive orders that were established by the President.

    The House bill passed last week would defund President Obama's immigration policies, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, known as DACA, which has been in place for over 2 years.

    What does DACA do? By the President's Executive order, it puts on hold the deportations of immigrant students who grew up in America. It allows these young people to continue to live and work in this country on a temporary basis. They are known, in shorthand, as the DREAMers.

    I know a little bit about this because I introduced the first DREAM Act 14 years ago in the U.S. Senate. It has become a very familiar term, but when I first started, no one had ever heard of it. What I found was there were young people brought to the United States by their parents at a very early age who had, obviously, no voice in the decision, raised in America, undocumented, went through our schools, were successful, had no criminal problems, and wanted a future.

    They couldn't get a future under American law. The DREAM Act would give them that opportunity to move to legal status. We have already invested in these young people, in their education, so why would we want to give up on their talents by deporting them after they are educated? That is exactly what the U.S. House of Representatives has proposed.

    In 2010, I joined with Republican Senator Richard Lugar. We wrote a letter to President Obama. It said: Why would we deport these young DREAMers? They offer so much potential for America.

    A year later, 22 Senators joined me in sending a followup letter to the President, and he issued his Executive order called DACA.

    Six hundred thousand eligible DREAMers have signed up for DACA, which means for these 600,000, they can live and work in America without the fear of deportation. It makes a big difference. Thirty thousand of them live in Illinois. We estimate there are another 1.5 million eligible.

    The Center for American Progress says these young people aren't just taking up space, they are going to add to the economy because of their talents. They estimate that these DREAMers will add $329 billion to our economy and create 1.4 million new jobs by 2030. That is a pretty tall prediction to think that these young people could have that impact on our economy.

    Let me tell you the story of one of the DREAMers whom the House Republicans would deport, and you may understand why this estimate of the profound, important impact of these DREAMers on our economy is realistic.

    As I mentioned, I introduced the DREAM Act 14 years ago. I have come to the floor over 50 times to tell stories of these DREAMers who, frankly, make the case for passing the DREAM Act and for defeating this hate-filled provision that was passed by the U.S. House. I am going to continue to update these stories about these DREAMers so you can understand why giving up on these DREAMers is giving up on the future of this country.

    I want to tell you the story about Carlos Martinez. Here is a picture of him. Carlos is holding his DACA card under the President's Executive order. Carlos and his brother were brought to the United States in 1991. Carlos was 9 years old. He came to this country and didn't speak one word of English, and his father told him, ``Estudien para que no batallen en la vida como yo.'' What it means in English is: Study so you don't have to struggle in life like I have.

    Carlos took his father's advice to heart. At high school in Tucson, AZ, Carlos graduated ninth in his class. Then he enrolled at the University of Arizona. He was undocumented at the time. He had never owned a computer, but he loved math and he dreamed about being a computer engineer.

    Four years later, in 2003, Carlos Martinez graduated with a bachelor of science degree in computer engineering and a minor in computer science, electrical engineering, and math. He was named the top Hispanic graduate in his class.

    For the record, Carlos Martinez did not qualify for 1 penny of Federal assistance to go to college, and you can imagine in Arizona probably not 1 penny of State assistance. But he made it through, graduating as the top Hispanic in his class from the University of Arizona. But after he graduated, reality set in. He received job offers from Intel, IBM, and a host of tech companies, but then they found out he was undocumented. He couldn't be hired.

    He didn't give up. He enrolled in the master's program for software systems engineering at the University of Arizona. He completed a 2\1/2\ year program in a year and a half.

    [[Page S304]] Carlos Martinez was also nominated for the University of Arizona Graduate School Centennial Award, given to the school's top graduate student.

    Carlos Martinez submitted his application for DACA when President Obama created this opportunity in August of 2012. The first day the forms were available, he was in line. He was one of the first to be approved. As soon as he received the notification he had been approved under this Executive order, Carlos Martinez went to a career fair at the University of Arizona and handed out his resumes to IBM, Intel, and other high-tech companies. Today Carlos Martinez is working for IBM. Out of more than 10,000 applicants for the job he filled, he was one of only 75 who were hired.

    Is America a better place to have that kind of educated individual working with good ideas, creating new products, expanding employment opportunities? Of course it is.

    So now the U.S. House of Representatives has decided the best thing for the future of America is to deport Carlos Martinez and deport those other young students who hold such potential for this country. That is the House Republican approach to immigration--deport Carlos Martinez.

    There are so many other DREAMers around this country with the same talents as Carlos. I want the American people to understand the human cost of the proposal that has been sent to us by the House of Representatives under Republican control. The House Republicans want to end DACA. Hundreds of thousands of people such as Carlos Martinez, protected by DACA, would be deported, and 1.5 million eligible to apply for DACA would never have that chance. It is shameless, shameless to play politics with the lives of nice young people who grew up in America and want to be part of our future, and it is so shortsighted.

    Will America be stronger if Carlos Martinez is gone? The House Republicans say yes, he should leave. After all of this investment, K- 12, bachelor's degree at the University of Arizona, the top graduate student in his master's program at that same university, the House Republicans say, ``Deport Carlos Martinez.'' They feel so strongly about this they are willing to hold up the appropriation for the Department of Homeland Security, the agency responsible for protecting our Nation.

    Let me be clear. Democrats are not going to be swayed by this blackmail. We will insist the Department of Homeland Security be properly funded to protect America and to do it now. This President made it clear he is ready to sign that bill, the sooner the better. Let's not assume that America has somehow been immunized or inoculated and never can be threatened again by terrorists. Let us properly fund the Department of Homeland of Security, and let us not pursue that shameless agenda sent to us by the House Republicans. Let's remove these riders and give Carlos Martinez and thousands of others just like him a chance to be part of America's future.

    I yield the floor.


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