Yesterday, the Senate accomplished a tremendous achievement by passing comprehensive immigration reform.
First I want to thank the seven Senators who joined with me to reach this moment in history. We came together to see if we could create a bill and in the end, we did much more. We created a friendship and a life experience we will never forget.
Each of us brought special pleadings to the table. I argued for protection of refugees and American workers; access to immigration courts and counsel; reform of a flawed H 1-B program; and a path to citizenship that was challenging but fair. But my colleagues knew from the start that there was one issue more important to me than any other.
It was twelve years ago when I first introduced the DREAM Act to find justice for a teenage girl in Chicago who faced deportation to Korea. Her name is Tereza Lee.
Over the years, her plight, and my bill, grew into a national campaign. In the beginning, teenagers in Chicago, afraid of deportation and filled with emotion, waited by my car in the dark to tell me they were Dreamers and beg for my help. Over time, as their numbers grew, so did their courage. They stood up and declared their love for this country and their determination to stay.
It wasn't easy. A few years ago, I held a press conference in the Capitol for Dreamers to tell their stories. A hate-filled Congressman from Colorado called the Immigration authorities and demanded these children be arrested. But his threats only made these young people more determined.
Time and again, we called the DREAM Act for a vote in the Senate but we could not break the filibuster.
Two and half years ago, the last time the DREAM Act was called, the gallery was packed with Dreamers. They sat in their caps and gowns and waited for the announcement of the vote that would decide their lives.
But with 55 votes, we fell short of breaking the filibuster once again.
I met with them after the vote. With tears flowing and heads down, they asked me: “what can we do?”
I said to them: “I am never giving up on you. Don’t give up on me.”
Today I have a message for Gaby, Tolu, and all the Dreamers who were in the gallery and around the country: your courage inspired us; your determination kept us together; and your faith in the only country you have ever called home has been rewarded. This bill we passed yesterday has the strongest DREAM Act ever written.
The first Dreamer in my life was brought to America at the age of two. The child of Lithuanian immigrants, she grew up in poverty and was determined to be an American citizen. At the age of 24 my mother’s dream came true. I dedicate my vote today to her memory.
For any of my colleagues who believe this was just another vote, just another political issue, remember the last naturalization ceremony you attended when new Americans, with flags in hand, took the oath and became part of this country. The emotion they felt and the emotion you felt should remind you how historic this moment truly is.
This journey is not yet finished, but I believe that yesterday’s vote has shown the American people that the Senate can still rise to the challenge and honor the faith of our founding fathers.
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Sent from the office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin