December 06, 2017

Senator Harris Floor Remarks on Protecting Dreamers

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris spoke yesterday on the Senate floor to show support for Dreamers and their contributions to America. Harris called for passage of the DREAM Act and stressed the urgent need to act before the end of the year to prevent the deportation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

Key Points from Senator Harris’ Remarks:

  • And I have been clear, along with my friend from Illinois, and several other colleagues, that any bill that funds the government must also include a fix for DACA.
  • The decision to rescind DACA is part of a much broader and troubling attempt to remake the demographics of the country by cracking down on immigrants. We have an Administration that has ignited anti-immigrant sentiment, characterizing immigrants as rapists and murderers and people who are going to steal your jobs. And we have an Administration that has implemented an aggressive anti-immigrant agenda.
  • Let’s also understand that this is an imminent issue and this is something we must address immediately. Let’s agree that each day in the life of these young people is a very long time. Each day that they go to sleep at night worried about a knock on the door at midnight that might tear them away from their families is a very long time. Let’s not wait. Let’s not wait to help them.

See below for Harris’ full remarks:

Mr. President, I’d like to thank the senior senator from Illinois. Senator Durbin has been a longstanding leader in this chamber and in our country on this issue and I can’t thank him enough for all that he does so tirelessly. I see his work behind closed doors and I know his passion and his personal commitment to this issue. I thank you, Senator Durbin.

Mr. President, on February 16th of this year, which was 292 days ago, I offered my maiden speech as a new member of the United States Senate. And the subject of this speech was immigration and in particular, an emphasis on DACA and the Dreamers.

And here we are, 292 days later and we have failed to move forward in any substantial or substantive way in bringing relief to these Dreamers who have qualified for DACA status. And so we stand here, these 292 days later talking about an issue that we must ultimately and before the end of this year resolve.

Let’s also be clear, three months ago today, on September 5th of this year, the Administration arbitrarily, recklessly, and cruelly ended DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

DACA allowed young immigrants who were brought here by their parents to live and work in this country without fear that they would be deported.

Later this week, on Friday, December 8th, funding for the government runs out.

And I have been clear, along with my friend from Illinois, and several other colleagues, that any bill that funds the government must also include a fix for DACA.

Now, I want to talk with you about why I believe it is important that we resolve this issue. Because I do believe there’s a lot of misinformation out there and I think it’s important we as policymakers, as leaders in our country, that we craft and create public policy based on facts, not misinformation and certainly not fear.

So let’s begin by being very clear. The decision to rescind DACA is part of a much broader and troubling attempt to remake the demographics of the country by cracking down on immigrants.

We have an Administration that has ignited anti-immigrant sentiment, characterizing immigrants as rapists and murderers and people who are going to steal your jobs.

And we have an Administration that has implemented an aggressive anti-immigrant agenda.

This Administration has called for a border wall that could cost up to $70 billion.

They’ve implemented Muslim bans, which severely restrict immigration from six Muslim-majority countries.

They’ve requested 10,000 new ICE agents and 5,000 new Border Patrol agents when they’ve not given the resources to be able to fill all the vacant positions they now have.

And they’ve ended the protected immigration status, known as TPS, for Haitians and Nicaraguans who fled disasters, and may crack down on the protected status of Salvadorans as well.

They’re seeking to lower the refugee cap from 110,000 to 45,000, at a time when we have seen an increase in the worldwide number of refugees who are in crisis. And this is the lowest number ever in the history of this country actually since 1980. And then General John Kelly, the President’s Chief of Staff and former Homeland Security Secretary, said that he wishes the number was “between 0 and 1.” The number of refugees we would admit into our country.

Now I want to be clear. I have an incredible amount of respect for the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security, who each day leave their homes, committed to doing the work of keeping our homeland secure. It is noble and important work and their mission is critical.

And the vast majority of those front line agents I believe are doing their jobs honorably and effectively.

But it is troubling when the White House has encouraged front line agents to “take the shackles off.” In fact, the Acting ICE Director has said, “If you’re an immigrant in this country illegally, you should be uncomfortable. You should look over your shoulder.”

And when you look at these independent acts, there is a clear constellation that’s formed. This enforcement surge is a barely-disguised purge.

And this is not leadership. Leaders should not be in the business of inciting fear and sowing hate and division. Instead, leaders should be about creating smart public policy based on facts.

So here are some of the facts.

It is a fact that there are 700,000 DACA recipients, 200,000 of which are in California alone.

It is a fact that the Dreamers have been extensively vetted before they qualified for DACA.

They’ve gone through a process, they’ve turned over copious amounts of paperwork with incredible detail, they’ve gone through background checks, they’ve given personal information about the circumstances of their arrival, they’ve answered questions that seek to figure out whether they’ve committed a crime.

If they applied and they received DACA status, we determined they were not a threat in that regard to our public safety.

We asked questions that sought to figure out if they’ve graduated high school, are they living a lawful and productive life. And it is only when they cleared that extensive vetting that they qualified for DACA status and received DACA status.

Let’s be clear that these Dreamers who received DACA status, they study in our colleges, they serve in our military, they work in Fortune 100 companies. And they are contributing to our economy in a way that we all are benefitting.

If DACA recipients were deported, it is estimated that California would lose $11 billion a year. The United States economy as a whole would lose an estimated $460 billion over a decade.

It is a fact also that these young people have stood in classrooms and stood in line in many places and placed their hand over their heart pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States. A flag that many of us wear on our lapel. A flag which represents the best of what we are in terms of the ideals upon which we were founded.

We must be true to those ideals and consistent in the way that we approach so many issues, as applied to this issue about what we do with these DACA kids. We must keep our word and our promise to them and guarantee what we promised, which is that we would not share their personal information with ICE [and] they would not be deported if they continued to follow the rules.

And in my experience it is also true that many who have an opinion or have expressed an opinion or who have the opportunity to make a decision about this issue have never met a Dreamer.

We can’t fault that, but what we can ask is that those who have the power to make a decision on this issue make it their business and make an effort to really understand who we’re talking about.

Senator Durbin talked about it, Senator Carper talked about it, my colleagues will be talking about who these Dreamers are, who these young people are.

And you know I have to tell you, I’ve been a bit troubled when I’ve had this conversation.

I remember when I had a conversation many months ago with the then-nominee to head up the Department of Homeland Security, General John Kelly.

And I asked him if he had ever met a Dreamer. And he said he had not. 

And then went on to say when I asked “Well can I arrange a meeting?” he said, “Can I meet with their representative instead?” That’s disheartening.

Before our colleagues make a decision about where they stand on this policy, I believe it is only fair, it is only the right thing to do that they make an effort to sit down and talk with a Dreamer and get to understand who they are and the circumstances of their arrival and how they are contributing to our country.

There are going to be hundreds of Dreamers here tomorrow on Capitol Hill and I want to thank them for their leadership and their tireless advocacy because their stories will change hearts and minds.

And let me just tell you a few. My colleagues have shared some, I’ll share some others.

I’ve met Yuriana Aguilar, who I brought to the President’s Joint Session Address this February. Her parents brought her here from Mexico when she was just 5 years old. She grew up in Fresno, California, she attended public schools, she attended UC Merced, she was the first DACA recipient to earn a PhD, and now is a biomedical researcher in Chicago, focused on the human heart, doing everything she can to improve the condition and the lives of the people in our country because of the work that she has done and the research she has done.

I’ve met Eric Yang who came from South Korea. He grew up in Irvine, California and is now studying business economics at UC Irvine, where he works to help other students.

My husband and I attended a play recently in Los Angeles. It’s a great program where there’s free entertainment in the park, [the] community and families show up and have a wonderful evening outdoors with each other in fellowship.

And I met a young woman who came up to me and she was with a group of friends and her friends said, “Tell her, tell her!” And I looked at this young woman, she looked like she was about maybe 19 years old. I said, “Well tell me what? Tell me, what’s going on?”

And she looked up and she looked at me and she spoke so quietly I didn’t hear what she said and I asked her to repeat herself. And she looked at me and she started crying and she said, “I am DACA.” And she was trembling as she cried, absolutely in fear of what her future may hold.

So I suggest that before we take a position on this issue, let’s take a moment, each one of us, our colleagues and each of us as individuals to see these young people, to truly see them. And to see them not through a lens that is about partisanship or politics, not through a lens that is ideological but instead to just see them based on who they really are and the practical realities of the life that they live that brought them to this country, the circumstances that brought them to this country and the lives they are living every day now.

These are incredible young people who are doing everything we hope and pray will epitomize the American dream. Work hard, be respectful, play by the rules, contribute to your community, have dreams and aspirations about how you can be productive. That’s who these young people are.

So let’s reject the fearmongering.

Let’s also understand that this is an imminent issue and this is something we must address immediately. Let’s agree that each day in the life of these young people is a very long time.

Each day that they go to sleep at night worried about a knock on the door at midnight that might tear them away from their families is a very long time.

Let’s not wait. Let’s not wait to help them.

And let’s reject those folks who say there is no crisis. Folks who say this is not an emergency.

Let’s understand that for these 700,000 Dreamers who cannot concentrate at school or at work and who are terrified of that midnight knock, this is an emergency.

Let’s think about the classmates and the coworkers and our neighbors and family members who have these children who are terrified that this protective status will be stripped and taken away. For them, this is an emergency.

Let’s think about the 122 Dreamers who are losing DACA status every single day. 851 of them every week. Over 11,000 of them since September.

And let’s agree, this is a crisis, this is an emergency.

It’s been 91 days since this Administration ended DACA and we cannot wait a single day longer.

So let’s reject the fearmongering, let’s find a bipartisan consensus to act in the way we know we should and can. Let’s put the DREAM Act to a vote today.

I believe it could pass and would pass if everyone looked in their hearts and looked at the facts.

Today, 34 House Republicans just signed a letter saying they want a DACA fix before the end of the year. And it included members from California and Texas, and Florida, and Utah, and Pennsylvania, and New York.

Earlier today, my colleague, the junior senator from Arizona said, “We don’t need to make a statement, we need to make a law.”

I couldn’t agree more. Let’s give these Dreamers a future.

I yield the floor.

 

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