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Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Department of Homeland Security Funding

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2015-01-27

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, in a little more than a month the Department [[Page S496]] of Homeland Security in Washington, DC, will run out of money. It is hard to imagine that the agency responsible for combating terrorism in the United States has its budget in question, but that was the design when the people sat down to write the Omnibus appropriations bill last year. The Republicans in the House insisted that if we were going to fund the rest of government, we had to withhold regular funding for the Department of Homeland Security. That is why the deadline of February 27 is looming.

    The Department of Homeland Security more than any other single agency is responsible for keeping America safe from terrorism. They supervise and manage the TSA officers and airports. They collect weapons that people try to bring on airplanes. It is hard to imagine that people still do. They try to keep us safe at a time when we know terrorism is a threat not just in the United States but in countries all over the world.

    Yet the Republicans in the House and Senate do not want to give regular funding to the Department of Homeland Security. They put it on temporary funding. As Mr. Johnson, the Secretary of this Department, said, it puts them at a real disadvantage at the Department of Homeland Security in keeping America safe. Yet the Republicans have insisted on this. Why? Why would they withhold regular funding for this critical agency? Because they are exercised by the President's decision to issue Executive orders on immigration. Their anger over the President's action has led them to jeopardize the immediate funding of an agency of critical importance to the United States. So they set out in the House of Representatives to add five riders to this appropriations bill which they insist must be passed if we are going to fund this agency. When you look at these five riders, I think you can understand why many of us think this is nothing short of an outrage.

    One of the things which they have set their sights on is a program I have worked on for 14 years here in the Senate. I introduced a bill 14 years ago called the DREAM Act--14 years ago. The concept behind it was very basic: Children brought to the United States by their parents who are undocumented deserve a chance--a chance to make a life in America if they have no serious criminal issues, if they have graduated from high school, if they are prepared to step forward, go to college, or serve in the military. The DREAM Act was introduced 14 years ago with a basic concept: Don't hold children responsible for bad decisions or wrongdoing by their parents. Give these young people a chance.

    Sadly, in the House of Representatives there is an anger against these young people that is almost difficult to describe. We think there are almost 2 million of them in America, and 600,000 have stepped forward to qualify for the DACA Program, an Executive order by the President that spares them from deportation while they are living in the United States. But the House of Representatives has insisted that we repeal the DACA Program, not issue any renewals for DACA protection, and not issue any new DACA protection for the 1.5 million who may still be eligible. That is one of their conditions before they will fund the agency that deals with terrorism to protect the United States from terrorism.

    This last weekend there were several very unusual and important meetings involving the American political scene. One was in California hosted by the Koch brothers which attracted three of our Senators on the other side of the aisle who were at least considering, if not aspiring to be President of the United States. The Koch brothers called them in for a presentation and questions as part of the process of deciding whether the Koch brothers would support them to be the next President of the United States. That is not the first time that has happened. Others representing special interest groups I am sure have called candidates before. This is a very overt effort by two very powerful men to spend almost $1 billion in the next political cycle to control the political future of this country.

    As troubling as that is for most Americans to hear, there was another forum that I think was equally disturbing in my neighboring State of Iowa. This was a forum called by Congressman Steve King. He called it a freedom forum. He attracted a large array of Republican aspirants to the office of President. Included in those were Governor Christie of New Jersey; Senator Cruz of Texas; former Senator Santorum of Pennsylvania; Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin; former Governor Palin of Alaska; Donald Trump; former Governor Perry of Texas; and former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. They all came to Iowa to be part of this freedom forum. This freedom forum was sponsored by Congressman Steve King.

    Without question, Congressman King has made some of the most outrageous statements about the DREAMers, whom I described earlier, of any Member of Congress. He has compared them to dogs. He has referred to DREAMers as the deportables--whatever that means.

    He has one oft-quoted statement: For every valedictorian among the DREAMers, there were 100 who had developed cantaloupe-sized calves carrying illegal narcotics across the border into the United States.

    That is the kind of rhetoric which might cause David Duke to blush, but it didn't stop these Republican Presidential aspirants from trekking out to Iowa to pay homage to Congressman Steven King.

    I would suggest that the Grand Old Party, which I do respect--the party of Abraham Lincoln--would be a party that would be embarrassed by the comments of Congressman King rather than pay homage to him in the State of Iowa.

    I wish to tell the story of one of the DREAMers whom Congressman King particularly would come to dislike because this is an undocumented person and one of the DREAMers who would be disadvantaged by the Republican action in the House of Representatives which would literally remove the protection this young lady has from deportation.

    This is Ola Kaso. Her story is amazing. She was brought to the United States from Albania in 1998 at the age of 5. She grew up in Warren, MI, and her dream was to become a medical doctor and to treat cancer patients. Ola was the valedictorian of her high school class. She took every advanced placement class offered by her school and had 4.4 grade point average.

    She was treasurer of the student council and treasurer of the National Honor Society at her school. In 2011, I held a hearing on the DREAM Act. Ola Kaso had just graduated from high school and she came to testify at that hearing. She was the first ever undocumented immigrant to testify before the Senate.

    In the fall of 2011, Ola entered the honors program at the University of Michigan where she is a premed student. What has happened to Ola Kaso since DACA was established in 2012? Ola has become involved in public service. In 2013 she worked as an intern in the office of our former colleague Senator Carl Levin. She continued her studies. This spring Ola will graduate from the University of Michigan with a double major in biochemistry and women's studies.

    Keep in mind she completed this degree without any financial assistance from our government. Ola is not eligible for Pell grants or student loans because she is undocumented. She has become involved in nanotechnology, a cutting-edge field that holds great promise for future technological breakthroughs. Ola is now conducting at the Michigan Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and Biological Sciences. Last year Ola's work was published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry. I want to read the name of the article which Ola Kaso published. I hope I will be spared, a liberal arts lawyer, if I stumble over some of these words. But just to give you an idea of her research, the article was entitled ``Atomic Force Microscopy Probing of Receptor- Nanoparticle Interactions for Riboflavin Receptor Targeted Gold- Dendrimer Nanocomposites.'' Now, that is a mouthful, but it gives you a sense of how much Ola Kaso has to contribute. Next, Ola plans to attend medical school, but if the House Republicans have their way and we pass in the Senate the language which was included as part of the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill, Ola Kaso will never have a chance. She will be deported back to Albania, a [[Page S497]] country she does not know at all. She will be forced to leave the United States.

    We will basically give up on the investment we have made as Americans in her education and her potential and tell her: Leave. In the words of Congressman Steve King, she is one of the ``deportables''--one of the ``deportables.'' Ola sent me a letter recently. Here is what she said about her dreams for the future: I aspire to ultimately become a surgical oncologist, but more importantly, I intend to work for patients that cannot afford the astronomical fees accompanying life-saving surgeries, patients are denied the medical treatment they deserve. My goal is not to increase my bank account; my goal is to decrease preventable deaths. I wish to remain in this country to make a difference.

    Ola is not alone. There are so many DREAMers across this country just like her who want to be part of our future. It is clear this DACA Program works for America. That is why I am asking DREAMers around the country to join me, post their stories about what they have done with DACA on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag ``DACA Works.'' I want the American people to understand the human cost of the bill that was passed by the Republicans in the House of Representatives and is now pending before the Senate. If this bill becomes law, DACA will end. Hundreds of thousands of DREAMers will risk deportation to countries they can barely remember. Will America be stronger if we deport Ola Kaso and others like her, young people who want to use their talents to give back to America, deporting them to countries they have some loose connection to by family ties? Of course not. It is shameless--shameless to play politics with the lives of these young people. They grew up in this country, attended school in this country, put their hand over their hearts in their classrooms every day to pledge allegiance to the only flag they have ever known. It is shameless for the House Republicans to put homeland security funding at risk in pursuit of punishing these young people. The House Republicans feel so strongly about deporting DREAMers, they are willing to hold our homeland security funding hostage.

    The House Republicans are telling the Senate and the President: Deport the DREAMers or we will shut down the Department of Homeland Security. I hope the Senate majority leader will reject this blackmail and bring a clean homeland security appropriations bill to the floor of the Senate as soon as possible.

    For our part, the Senate Democrats will insist that the Department of Homeland Security be funded and that the President have the authority, which every President has, to establish America's immigration policies. The Presiding Officer was part of an effort, as I was several years, to try to resolve this issue in a thoughtful, balanced, comprehensive way.

    The ultimate bill that was considered before the Senate was not perfect. Parts of it I did not like at all, but we reached a compromise. Over a year and a half ago, we sent that bipartisan bill to the House of Representatives asking them to call it for consideration and amendment. They refused, refused for more than a year and a half to call that bill. Instead, what they have done is launch these attacks on young people such as Ola Kaso.

    Is that what America is all about? Is that the best we can do? For the dozen or more Republican Presidential aspirants who made that journey out to Iowa to pay homage to Congressman Steve King and his views about immigration, I would ask them to, when they return home: Look around you. There are young people just like this young woman who are only asking for a chance to be part of America's future.

    I yield the floor, and I 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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