Department of Homeland Security Fundingby Senator Richard J. Durbin
Posted on 2015-01-29
DURBIN. Mr. President, 29 days from today, on February 27, the
Department of Homeland Security of the United States of America will
run out of money. The only way to prevent this is for Congress to pass
legislation to fund this Department. We should not even be debating
whether we are going to fund the Department that protects America from
terrorism threats, but that is fact.
Republicans in the House, when we did the budget bill, insisted that we would fund the entire Federal Government through September 30, except for the Department of Homeland Security. The reason they withheld regular budget funding for that Department was they wanted to make a political point. They are angered at President Obama for stepping forward with Executive orders on the issue of immigration, even though the same House Republicans have refused for over a year and a half to call the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed this Senate on a bipartisan basis and refused for over a year and a half to address any aspect of immigration. In a fit of pique they said: We are so angry President Obama is going to do something by way of Executive order, we are going to withhold regular funding from the Department that protects America from terrorism.
What were they thinking? Look at the world we live in: a world of Charlie Hebdo, a world of beheading of Japanese journalists, a world that is in danger of terrorist threat, and the United States has felt that danger. We will never forget what happened on 9/11. After that experience, we made the Department of Homeland Security a critical, viable part of America's defense against terrorism.
The Republicans have said: No, before we fund this agency, we have to have five riders on the appropriations bill that attack President Obama. Then we might consider giving regular funding to this Department. One aspect of those riders is particularly troubling.
It was 14 years ago that I introduced the DREAM Act, a simple concept. Children brought to the United States by their parents who are undocumented should be given a chance--simple. Children who were brought to the United States as infants and toddlers and had no voice in the decision of their family and end up here undocumented should be given a chance--a chance to complete school, to be good citizens, to go on to college, to serve in the military, and then a path to legal status. It is not a radical idea.
At times many Republicans have openly supported the DREAM Act. When we couldn't pass it I appealed to the President, at least protect these DREAMers from being deported. These kids did nothing wrong. They were brought here by their parents. Why hold these children accountable? The President agreed and 2\1/2\ years ago created DACA.
DACA is an Executive order that says to these young people who would otherwise qualify for the DREAM Act, you come forward, you identify yourself, you let us make sure you have no criminal record that would be of worry to anyone, pay your fee, and we will allow you to temporarily stay in the United States as a student or a worker without being deported. It is just that simple.
We estimate 2 million young children are eligible for the DREAM Act-- 2 million--and 600,000 have already registered under DACA, the President's Executive order.
What did the House Republicans say? They said, before we will fund the Department of Homeland Security protecting America against terrorism, you have to deport the DREAMers, refuse to renew the DACA protection for 600,000 who have signed up, and refuse to allow any new young person to sign up for this protection.
I have come to the floor for a long period of time and I will continue to because I want people to know what the DREAM Act means. It is something, I guess, of significance to stand and give a speech, but it truly doesn't touch people until they hear actual stories.
The story I wish to tell today is of a young woman whom I know. I was just with her in Chicago. Her name is Karen Villagomez. She was brought to the United States at the age of 2. Incidentally, that was the same age my mother was brought to the United States as an immigrant.
Karen was brought here at the age of 2 from Mexico. She grew up in Chicago. She was an outstanding student, and she always had an interest in public service. In May of 2012 she graduated from the University of Rochester in New York with a major in political science. She was not only the first person in her family to graduate from a 4-year college-- because Karen Villagomez is undocumented, she didn't receive one penny of government assistance. She made it through college on her own without any help because as an undocumented young woman that was the only chance she had.
Just 1 month after she graduated, President Obama created the DACA Program. After she applied and cleared and received DACA protection from deportation, she found a job as a paralegal in a law firm in Chicago, where she has been working for the last 2 years.
I saw her 1 week ago Friday. She was in Chicago, and she is amazing. She served as an intern in my office. She is one of the brightest, most engaging people one could meet. She looked me in the eye and said: Senator, I am going to law school. I have just been accepted. She is supposed to start this fall. But if the House Republicans have their way, this fall she will find herself being deported from the United States of America.
Think about it. All we have invested in her, all we have put into her life in terms of education, not only K-12 but a college degree now, and the House Republicans would say to Karen Villagomez: Thank you for being part of America, but no thanks, leave. Take whatever skills you have, whatever determination you have to make a difference and take it someplace else. America doesn't need your idealism, the House Republicans say.
I couldn't disagree with them more. If they have their way, Karen would never attend law school. She will never be an attorney. She will be deported back to Mexico, a country she hasn't lived in since she was 2 years old.
Karen got up every morning in the classroom--just as we do on the Senate floor--and pledged allegiance to that flag. That is the only flag she knows. When she sings the national anthem, it is not the national anthem of Mexico, it is the national anthem of the United States of America. Karen wants to be part of the future of this country.
Two weeks ago when she joined me at Erie House in Chicago for a press conference, this is what she said: [[Page S613]] DACA represents the values and heritage of this country of immigrants; it was the right thing to do and it has changed my life by replacing fear with hope. This executive action gave me an overwhelming sense of relief and hope. It lifted me from the shadows.
Karen's is one of 2 million stories of eligible young people who want to be part of the future of America.
It is time for the Senate to say no to the House on a bipartisan basis. It is time for us to reject this hate-filled amendment process they engaged in that put five riders on this appropriations bill to penalize young people such as Karen Villagomez.
Is that the face of the Republican Party of America--deporting Karen Villagomez and saying to her and others: You are not welcome in America. Leave.
I don't think so. There are many Republicans who come to me and say: I support the DREAM Act. So let's support the DREAM Act. This is their chance. Step up and defeat these horrible riders that were attached to this appropriations bill by the House Republicans. Step up and give us a chance as a nation to renew our commitment to our diversity, to our heritage as a nation of immigrants, and to renew our commitment to young people such as Karen, whom we have told: If you work hard against the odds and succeed, we want you to be part of our future.