A picture of Senator Richard J. Durbin
Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Department of Homeland Security Funding

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2015-01-22

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks around the world--particularly in Paris--the American people know that terrorism, sadly, is a threat to us even to this day. We count on one department of government as much if not more than any other to protect us--the Department of Homeland Security.

    This is the Department which monitors the terrorist threats to our country on a minute-by-minute basis. This is the agency that provides the inspectors at airports and in many other places to try to thwart terrorism before it strikes. It is a critically important part of our government--one of the most important departments.

    That is why it is curious to me that House Republicans insisted that the budget--the regular budget for the Department of Homeland Security--be held up until the end of February. They need their Department budget. They need to invest it to keep America safe. Yet, the House Republicans said no. They gave a continuing resolution to the Department, which basically lets them operate on a day-to-day basis with no certainty for the future. That is no way to run an agency, particularly one that is supposed to keep America safe.

    Then, last week, the U.S. House of Representatives took another step and really revealed what was behind this strategy. They added five negative riders to this Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill. Their riders are the subject of immigration. Of course, the Department of Homeland Security has a responsibility when it comes to immigration. These riders were onerous and they threatened the very passage of this important legislation, so much so that the President of the United States has issued a veto threat if the Republican riders from the U.S. House of Representatives are included in the bill when it passes the Senate.

    The right thing to do, the smart thing to do, the thing to do to protect America is for us to pass the homeland security appropriation now so this agency has its money. We should remove the onerous and unfair riders that were attached by the House of Representatives. If we are to debate the negative aspects of immigration, let's save it for another day and not put this Department of Homeland Security at risk and the safety of America at risk over this political effort by the Republicans in the House of Representatives.

    One aspect of the House measure, an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security appropriation, I find particularly troublesome. It was 14 years ago when I introduced the DREAM Act. It is hard to imagine it has been that long. But the notion behind the DREAM Act was if a child is brought to America by a family and is undocumented in this country and that child grows up in America, completes high school, and has no serious criminal problems in their background, they ought to be given a chance to either enlist in our military, to go to college, to get on a path toward legalization. That is the DREAM Act.

    Originally the DREAM Act had some Republican sponsorship, but over the years that support melted away. Yet, many Republicans have said from time to time: I think the DREAM Act is fair; we just haven't enacted it into law. Because of that, 2\1/2\ years ago many of us appealed to President Obama to protect these DREAMers, these young people. Many of them completed school and had nowhere to go. Being undocumented, they didn't qualify for a penny of assistance in going to [[Page S369]] college and, many times, if they completed college, they couldn't get a job because of their immigration status.

    Back in 2012 President Obama created a program called DACA. The DACA Program said that if these DREAMers--these young people who might be eligible under the law I described--would come forward and register with the government and submit to a background check and pay a filing fee, they would be given temporary status to live in the United States without being deported, to go to school, to work.

    We estimate that some 2 million young people could qualify for this program, and 600,000 have signed up--so far, 600,000. In the State of Illinois, 30,000 have signed up. They have come forward.

    I have met some of these young people who have qualified under DACA. They are extraordinary young people. I went to Loyola Medical School in Chicago. At the medical school I believe there are 10, perhaps 12 students who are DACA-protected who are now going to medical school. There are two things to be said. First, they are extraordinary students. They had no chance to go to medical school before DACA, and now they do. They are well qualified to go to medical school. Secondly, they have only come to Loyola with the promise that after they receive their medical license, they will practice in underserved areas in Illinois and across America, whether it is rural areas or inner city. They are prepared to dedicate their professional lives to serving people who otherwise might not have access to medical care.

    That is just one example. Let me tell you about some others. I would like to update the Senate on two people whom I have come to the floor and talked about in the past--Carlos and Rafael Robles. They were brought to the United States when they were small 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.

    In high school Carlos was the captain of the tennis team and a member of the varsity swim team. He volunteered for Palatine's physically challenged program, where every day he helped to feed lunch to special needs students. Carlos graduated from Harper Community College and went on to attend Loyola University in Chicago, majoring in education. This is what one of his teachers said about him: Carlos is the kind of person we want among us because he wants to make the community better. This is the kind of person you want as a student, the kind of kid you want as a neighbor and friend to your child, and most germane to his present circumstance, the kind of person you want as an American.

    After he received DACA protection--President Obama's Executive order--Carlos was able to work as a tennis coach at his high school and help pay his tuition.

    After he graduated from Loyola with a major in education, Carlos worked as a teacher in a public high school in Chicago. I ran into him at a meeting last year, and he told me about his ambition to be a teacher. He is now attending graduate school at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, where he is studying education policy. He is a bright and engaging young man who wants to make our schools more effective.

    In high school, his brother Rafael was captain of the tennis team and a member of the varsity swim team and soccer team. He graduated from Harper Community College and now attends the University of Illinois, where he is majoring in architecture. One of Rafael's teachers said: Rafael is the kind of person I have taught about in my Social Studies classes--the American who comes to this country and commits to his community and makes it better for others. Raffi Robles is a young man who makes us better. During my 28-year career as a high school teacher, coach, and administrator, I would place Raffi in the top 5 percent of all the kids with whom I have ever had contact.

    Since receiving DACA, Rafael has been a full-time student while also working at Studio Gang Architects, an award-winning architectural firm in Chicago. Rafael will graduate this spring with a 3.8 GPA.

    In a letter to Congress, the Robles brothers shared their thoughts about efforts to overturn DACA. Here is what they said: We ask you today to see it in your heart to do the right thing, to listen, and to reward the values of hard work and diligence, values that made America the most beautiful and prosperous country in the world and that we're sure got you, as members of Congress, to where you are today in life. These are values we have come to admire and respect in the American people. We will continue to uphold these values until the last days of our lives. We hope eventually as citizens of the United States we will become part of a country we now see as home.

    These two individuals, Carlos and Rafael Robles--extraordinary DREAMers--were brought to this country as children by their parents, undocumented with no future in America, and look what they have done with their lives. One has dedicated his life to education and has overcome the odds and graduated from Loyola University without any government assistance. Because he is undocumented, he doesn't qualify. Now he is going for a master's degree, again at his own expense. His brother is pursuing a degree in architecture.

    Do you know what House Republicans say? Deport the Robles brothers. That is what their amendment to the Department of Homeland Security appropriations says. Deport these two young men. Send them out of this country despite the fact that they have worked so hard and succeeded in what they have set out to achieve.

    The House Republicans want to deport the 600,000 just like them who have qualified under the President's DACA Program. And they have gone further--not a penny, they have said, for any additional young people to apply for the DACA Program. Two million young people, many of whom, like the Robles brothers, just want to make America a better place--the House Republicans say: Deport them. Further, they say: We won't pass the Department of Homeland Security appropriations to protect Americans from terrorism until you deport the Robles brothers and young people just like them.

    What is wrong with this picture? Have the Members of the House of Representatives forgotten who we are as a nation? It is a nation of immigrants. My mother was an immigrant to this country. Her naturalization certificate is sitting right behind my desk upstairs. I am proud of it. She came to this country at the age of 2 from Lithuania and raised a family--a proud American citizen. Her son is honored to represent the State of Illinois in the U.S. Senate. That is my story. That is my family's story. That is America's story. That is the Robles' story.

    Why do the House Republicans have such a vengeance against these young men and women who through no fault of their own found themselves in America and made the best of it and only want to make this a better Nation? It drives the House Republicans into a rage to think that the Robles brothers might stay in the United States and make this a better country. I don't get it. I don't understand their thinking.

    I really would encourage the House Republicans to meet some of the DREAMers and get to know them. When they do, the images which perhaps they have in their minds would be dispelled quickly.

    We have a job ahead of us. The Senate needs to pass the Department of Homeland Security appropriations and the sooner, the better. God forbid we face another terrorist attack. Let's not let it happen with this important Department facing the restrictions they have been facing because of this Republican strategy. Let's give them a full appropriation and tell them to do their best every single day to keep us safe. Let's not embroil their work in a political debate about immigration, which is what the House Republicans insist on. Let's do something different here in the Senate. Let's pass a clean Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill. Take out the immigration riders. Save them for another day. Save them for amendments on another bill. Let's fund this Department, and let's get it done now. For the safety and security of this Nation, we need to come together on a bipartisan basis and put this political tactic by the House Republicans behind us.

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

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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