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Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Department of Homeland Security Funding

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2015-02-03

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, I am pleased to follow my leader on the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski. She and I know what it was like on 9/11/2001 in this building. We were looking out the window down the Mall and saw black smoke billowing from the Pentagon. We didn't know what happened, but we were told immediately to evacuate this U.S. Capitol Building.

    I had never heard those words before. We raced out of the building, standing on the lawn outside, unaware of exactly what happened.

    We knew about the tragedy in New York. We didn't know what was next. We stood there in our bewilderment, thinking what could we do. Well, what we did was protect ourselves and our Nation and come together. I remember our choral director, when we came together, Senator Mikulski of Maryland, led us in singing ``God Bless America'' that evening on the steps of the Capitol.

    There was a feeling of bipartisanship brought about by the tragedy of that moment and the belief that we had to rise above party to do something and keep America safe.

    We did. I am proud of that, and I am proud of the role the Senator from Maryland played in that.

    One of the aspects that went way beyond singing was to roll up our sleeves and decide how to make government work more effectively. We had two outstanding leaders in that effort: Senator Lieberman of Connecticut and Senator Collins of Maine. The ranking Republican and Democratic chair of that committee came together and crafted a bill literally to create a new department in our government, the Department of Homeland Security, that brought together, I believe, 22 different agencies under one roof so that we could effectively coordinate keeping America safe.

    We agreed on a bipartisan basis and created that Department, and that Department has really served us well. The current Secretary, Jeh Johnson, is an outstanding individual. They have so many areas of responsibility. Other agencies play an important role--defense, intelligence, transportation--but the Department of Homeland Security is the coordinating department for America's safety against terrorism.

    That is why it is incredible to me that we have refused to provide the funds the Department of Homeland Security needs to keep America safe.

    The Republicans insisted in December, in the House of Representatives, they would not pass the appropriations bill for one department, the Department of Homeland Security, because they wanted to enter into a debate with the President over immigration policy. There is nothing wrong with a debate over immigration policy. In fact, the Republicans, now in the majority control of the House and Senate, could have started that debate weeks ago. They didn't.

    Instead, they attached five riders to the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill, and they said: We will not allow that Department to be properly funded unless the President accepts these five immigration riders.

    I wish to speak to one of those riders because it really tells the story of the feelings of many on the Republican side when it comes to immigration.

    Fourteen years ago I introduced the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act is very basic. If you were brought to America as an infant, a toddler, a child by your parents, and you were undocumented in America, we believe you still deserve a chance.

    As children, they didn't vote on the family decision to come to America, but their lives have been changed because of that decision. They have lived in America--many of these young people--undocumented, growing up, going to school, doing everything every child around them did, and then finally knowing they didn't have the necessary legal documentation to stay in this country.

    Well, I introduced the DREAM Act and said for those kids--who should not be held responsible for any wrongdoing by their parents--give them a chance. Give them a chance if they have led a good life, if they have graduated from high school, if they aspire to serve in our military or go on to college. Give them a chance to be legal in America.

    The DREAM Act we have never enacted into law despite 14 years of effort. But the President stepped in 2\1/2\ years ago and said by Executive order: We will not deport the DREAMers if there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, if they have completed high school, if they came here as infants, toddlers, and children. We will give them a chance to stay in America, to work in America, and to go to school in America.

    We estimate 2 million young people would qualify, and 600,000 have gone through the process. They have paid the filing fee, gone through the process, have the protection of what we call DACA, and now don't have to fear deportation. Who are these young people? They, frankly, are some of the most inspiring stories I have met as a Member of the Senate.

    The Republicans in the House of Representatives have said they want to deport the DREAMers. That is right. They will not allow the Department of Homeland Security to renew their protection from deportation, and they won't allow any others to apply for DACA protection.

    That means 600,000 young people currently protected by DACA would be [[Page S710]] facing deportation and another 1.5 million will be facing it as well.

    Now, that is the answer of the Republican Party when it comes to immigration. Take these children--who came here as children to America, who have shown they want to be part of America's future--and deport them. Get rid of them.

    From the Republican point of view in the House of Representatives, we have no use for these young people.

    I wish to introduce one of these young people. This is Aaima Sayed. Aaima Sayed was brought to the United States from Pakistan. When she was 3 years old her parents brought her to this country. She grew up in Chicago like every other typical American kid. Aaima says: I have no memories but those of living in the United States; I am an American in every way, except on paper.

    Aaima was an outstanding student. She graduated in the top 10 percent of her high school class, where she was secretary of the Spanish club, the math team, and a member of the National Society of High School Scholars. Her dream in life is to be a doctor. This is how she explains it: It completely breaks my heart to see thousands of children die of treatable diseases due to inadequate basic health care facilities, and I want to have the skills and ability to change that.

    In January 2012, Aaima graduated from Rutgers University magna cum laude with a major in psychology. She was on the dean's list six times and had a grade point average of 3.75 out of 4.0. She was a research assistant at the Rutgers Department of Psychology and interned with a local cardiologist. Aaima took the Medical College Admission Test, the MCAT, after graduating magna cum laude from Rutgers.

    She scored in the 90th percentile. Her score was better than 90 percent of those who took the test. Shortly after she graduated from Rutgers, she was told that President Obama had an Executive order that gave her a chance to stay in America. It was called DACA. She applied for it, and she was accepted.

    For Aaima, it meant that now, for the first time, she could honestly think about going to go medical school. She has never received any government assistance, incidentally. As an undocumented person in America, she doesn't qualify. So when she goes to college, it is at considerable challenge and hardship beyond those who had help from the government. She never did.

    Aaima sent a letter to me about DACA and its impact on her. She said: I went from feeling hopeless and full of uncertainty regarding my future to feeling confident and optimistic that I will one day get the opportunity to help my community and people in other poverty-stricken areas.

    Then something amazing happened. Loyola University in Chicago, after the President's Executive order on DACA, decided they would create 10 spots in their medical school for DACA students around America such as Aaima. She applied.

    I went to Loyola the day they started classes and met 10 of them. Aaima is an amazing young woman. This was an extraordinary academic achievement in her life, and she was surrounded by those just like her who were ``undocumented,'' protected by President Obama's Executive order.

    The 10 were accepted to Loyola in this special program in their medical school on one condition; that is that when they finished and became doctors, they had to agree to serve in underserved areas where the poor people live in America and don't have doctors. They gladly agreed to do it.

    They are not going to medical school to get rich. They are going to medical school for the enrichment of a profession where they can help so many deserving people. That is where Aaima is today, at Loyola's medical school. I thank Loyola University for giving her a chance and giving nine others a chance. I thank them as well for giving Aaima the opportunity to serve those in America--in cities and rural areas--who have no doctors.

    The House Republicans want to deport this young woman. That is what they have said: We want to deport her. We don't believe she should stay in America. After all she has accomplished in her life, after all she promises to bring to our great country, the Republicans have said: No, we don't need you. We don't want you. Leave.

    That is what the rider says on the Department of Homeland Security. I come to this floor virtually every day and tell another story, such as the story of Aaima, the story of what she has been through and the promise she holds for the future of this country. I cannot understand the mentality of some on the other side of the aisle who are so hateful when it comes to these young, idealistic, amazing young people. Some of the things they have said about these DREAMers are very sad. I have had a chance to meet them, and I am going to continue to work for them.

    So let us do this. Let us pass a clean Department of Homeland Security bill. What does that mean? Take off the riders, take off the politically extraneous things. Let us pass the bill to fund the Department that keeps America safe and then turn to the majority party--the Republican majority party--and say: Now accept your responsibility. If you want to debate immigration, bring it to the floor of the Senate, bring it to the floor of the House. It is within your power to do it. Don't hold the Department of Homeland Security hostage. Please, when you consider the future of immigration in America, don't forget we are a nation of immigrants, and that immigrant stock has made this the greatest country on Earth, if I can say. Let us continue that tradition.

    Mr. President, I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Vermont.

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