Durbin: We Are A Nation Of Immigrants

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today took  to the U.S. Senate Floor to speak out against a House Republican effort to defund the President’s immigration policies, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which temporarily halts deportations of young Americans known as “Dreamers” – immigrant students who were brought here as children by their parents and who grew up in the United States.

During his speech, Durbin told the story of Sergeant Oscar Vazquez, a Dreamer who help start a high school robotics team that beat MIT in a national robotics competition. Durbin first shared Oscar’s story on the Senate Floor in 2009. Oscar and his team’s story was told in the 2005 WIRED story “La Vida Robot” and will be portrayed in the feature film Spare Parts, set to be released this Friday. Durbin will co-host a screening of the movie later today with the Center for American Progress. 

“Dreamers like Oscar Vazquez have grown up in this country and have overcome great obstacles to succeed. They are our future leaders, they will serve in the military, they will be doctors, engineers, lawyers, and business leaders if they’re given a chance,” Durbin said. “I urge my colleagues to resist this effort by the House Republicans to deport hundreds of thousands of Dreamers and millions of others who stand a chance to make America a better and stronger nation.” 


Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate Floor will be available shortly here.


Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate Floor is available here.


Footage of Durbin remarks on the Senate Floor is available for TV Stations using FTP in high definition here and in standard definition here.


Durbin first introduced the DREAM Act in 2001. The Dream Act would give undocumented students a chance to earn legal status if they came here as children, are long-term U.S. residents, have good moral character, and complete two years of college or military service in good standing. The bill was included as part of the comprehensive immigration reform legislation passed in the Senate during the last Congress.

Durbin’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, are available below:

Senator Dick Durbin

“Spare Parts” Screening and Funding for the Department of Homeland Security

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

January 13, 2015

Mr./Mme. President, this evening I am joining with the Center for American Progress to host a screening of “Spare Parts,” a new movie that tells the true story of four students at Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix Arizona. 

These students were undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.  And they started a robotics team at their high school that went on to great success.

The movie was produced by actor and comedian George Lopez and stars Lopez, as the coach of the robotics team; Jamie Lee Curtis, as the high school principal; Marisa Tomei, as a high-school teacher; Carlos Pena, as Oscar Vazquez, one of the students; and Alexa Vega, as Oscar’s girlfriend Karla.

I’m especially excited about seeing this movie because I have known one of these students, Oscar Vazquez, for some time.

Six years ago, I told Oscar’s story here on the floor of the Senate for the first time. 

Let me briefly summarize it now.  Oscar was brought to Phoenix, AZ, by his parents when he was a child.  He dreamed of enlisting in the military, and he spent his high school years in Junior ROTC.

At the end of his junior year, a recruiting officer told Oscar he was ineligible to serve in our military because he was undocumented.  So Oscar found another outlet for his talent. He helped to start the robotics club at Carl Hayden High School. 

Oscar and his three teammates entered a college-level robot competition sponsored by NASA. They worked for months in a storage room in their high school. They were competing against students from MIT and other top universities. The Carl Hayden High School team won first place.

After high school, Oscar went on to Arizona State University, and in 2009, he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. He was one of the top three students in his class.

Following his graduation, Oscar took a brave step. He voluntarily returned to Mexico, a country where he had not lived since he was a child.  He said: “I decided to take a gamble and do the right thing.”

In 2010, the Obama administration granted Oscar a waiver to reenter the United States. Without this waiver, Oscar would have been barred from returning to the United States for at least 10 years. He would have been separated from his wife Karla and their daughter Samantha, both of whom are American citizens.

When Oscar returned to the United States, he did two things. He applied for citizenship, and he enlisted in the U.S. Army.

Oscar served as a cavalry scout in the war in Afghanistan, fulfilling the dream that he had as a child.  He also became a citizen of the country he was willing to die for.

Last year, Oscar testified at a hearing that I held on the benefits of allowing immigrants to enlist in our military. 

The Falcon Robotics team, which Oscar and his friends started, is now a fixture at Carl Hayden High School. 

I’ve told the stories of two other members of the Falcon Robotics team  here on the Senate floor.

Dulce Matuz graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering.  As a senior, Dulce received an internship to work on the NASA Space Station. 

After graduation, Dulce couldn’t work as an engineer, so she co-founded the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition.  As a result of her activism, Dulce was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine.

Angelica Hernandez served in Junior R.O.T.C. and was President of the National Honors Society.  Angelica graduated from high school with a 4.5 GPA.  She graduated from Arizona State University as the outstanding senior in the Mechanical Engineering Department, with a 4.1 GPA.

Why am I telling you about the movie “Spare Parts” and the Carl Hayden robotics team?  Because it puts a human face on legislation that will be debated in the House of Representatives later this week.

The House Republicans are preparing to pass a bill that would defund the President’s immigration policies, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – also known as DACA. 

The DACA program puts on hold the deportations of immigrant students who grew up in this country and allows these young people to live and work legally in America on a temporary basis.

These young people – immigrants like Oscar Vazquez, Dulce Matuz, and Angelica Hernandez – are known as Dreamers.  They were brought to the United States as children.  They grew up in this country and have overcome great obstacles to succeed.  They are the future doctors, engineers, teachers, and soldiers who will make this country stronger.

In the last two years, more than 600,000 Dreamers have received DACA.  DACA has unleashed the potential of these Dreamers to contribute more fully to our country. 

Many DACA recipients are already contributing to our country.  For example, Angelica Hernandez, a former member of the Carl Hayden robotics team, is now working as an engineer at Nexant Corporation, where she specializes in renewable energy.

The Center for American Progress and the Partnership for a New American Economy has found that giving legal status to Dreamers will add $329 billion to our economy and create 1.4 million new jobs by 2030.

But the Republicans in the House of Representatives want to end DACA.   They want these young people to be deported to countries that they barely remember.

And what bill are the Republicans using to eliminate DACA?  It’s the legislation to fund the Homeland Security Department, a government agency that is responsible for protecting Americans from the threat of terrorism.

In the aftermath of the horrible terrorist attack in France, it is surprising – to say the least – that the House of Representatives is considering a bill that threatens to shut down the Homeland Security Department.

We shouldn’t even be debating funding for the Homeland Security Department at this time.  Every other government agency is funded through the end of the fiscal year – September 30th – which is the normal schedule for government funding.

But Republicans insisted that DHS only be funded through the end of February.  Why did they demand that we put Homeland Security funding at risk?

Because they wanted an opportunity – early this year – to take a stand against President Obama’s immigration policy.

And the House Republicans feel so strongly about deporting Dreamers that they are willing to hold our homeland security funding hostage to force Democrats to agree.

Well let me be clear:  Democrats will not be swayed by this kind of blackmail.  We will insist that the Department of Homeland Security be funded and that the President have the authority – which every President has had – to establish his own immigration policies.

This is just a continuation of Republican obstructionism on immigration.

More than a year and a half ago, on June 27, 2013, the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation on a strong bipartisan 68-32 vote.  This bill would strengthen border security, crack down on illegal immigration, protect American workers, and, in a fair and humane manner, address the situation of 11 million undocumented workers who are currently living in our country.

But for the last year and a half, the House of Representatives has refused to allow a vote on the Senate’s immigration reform bill.  If Speaker Boehner had brought our bill to the floor, it would pass with a strong bipartisan majority and the President would sign it into law.

For the past decade, I’ve been involved in several efforts to pass bipartisan immigration reform legislation.  But every time, we’ve been stopped by Republican opposition.  The House Republicans have left President Obama with no choice.  For the good of the American people, the President was forced to use his authority under current law to do what he can to fix our broken immigration system.

So the President has put a temporary hold on the deportations of individuals who are the parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, who have lived in our country for years, and who do not pose any threat to our safety.

This is not an amnesty.  It simply puts a hold on the deportations of qualified immigrants – so American citizen children won’t be separated from their parents – and allows these parents to live and work legally in America on a temporary basis.  Individuals who receive this “deferred action” are not granted permanent legal status or citizenship – only Congress can do that.

The President’s executive action will make us safer by bringing millions of immigrants out of the shadows to register with the government and undergo rigorous law enforcement and national security background checks. 

The President’s executive action will also help our economy and American workers.  The reality is that these immigrants are already part of the workforce.  But they are working illegally, which undercuts wages and working conditions for American workers. 

By bringing undocumented workers into the legal workforce, we will eliminate the unfair competition of the underground economy.  And all of these workers will be paying payroll taxes, which will increase tax revenues by billions of dollars every year. 

The President’s executive action is also a smart and realistic approach to enforcing our immigration laws.  It is not humanly possible to deport all of the undocumented immigrants in this country.  So every Administration has to set priorities about who to deport.

The government should not waste its limited resources to deport immigrants who have lived and worked here for years, who have children who are American citizens or lawful permanent residents, and who don’t pose a threat to our safety.  Instead, this Administration has made it the top priority to deport those who have committed serious crimes or are a threat to public safety.

Executive action on deportations is clearly lawful.  Every President since Dwight Eisenhower has used his executive authority to improve our immigration system.  And the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that the federal government has broad authority to decide who to deport.  President Obama is acting well within his legal authority when he establishes policies about who will be deported by his Administration.

The American people want their government to solve problems.  Because the House Republican leadership has failed to reform our immigration system, the President had no choice but to use his authority under the law to improve our economy and security and keep families together.

But however you feel about the President’s immigration policies, it is hypocritical and counterproductive to take out your frustration by putting at risk critical homeland security funding.