September 06, 2017

Feinstein Calls for DREAM Act Vote

Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today spoke on the Senate floor. She spoke in support of DACA recipients and called for a stand-alone vote on the DREAM Act.

Feinstein’s remarks follow:

“I rise to speak about the need to protect undocumented young people, commonly referred to as ‘Dreamers,’ from deportation.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or what’s called DACA, was announced by President Obama in 2012 to solve an urgent need. Hundreds of thousands of young people—brought to this country as children—were at risk of being deported. They didn’t take the action to come. Their parents took the action to come and bring them.

President Obama’s executive order temporarily protected these undocumented young people from deportation. DACA also provides the opportunity to obtain work permits and has made it possible for many young DACA beneficiaries to enroll in college.

If Congress doesn’t act now and pass a law, President Trump’s decision to terminate this program will have devastating consequences for the nearly 800,000 families across the United States, particularly those in California.

This decision to end DACA without first ensuring that young people have legal protection is why we’re demanding a vote on the DREAM Act—as soon as possible.

DACA recipients deserve certainty now—not six months from now. These young people trusted our government, and it’s time we stopped playing with their lives.

The DREAM Act, introduced by Senators Graham and Durbin, has been considered many times already by this Congress. It was most recently included in the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013 with 68 votes.

I remember it well. I remember weeks in committee. I remember dozens of amendments. I remember the time on the floor. The hope that we would be able to pass comprehensive immigration reform. It had an agricultural workers program in it. It had this program for undocumented children. It had H2-A. It had a whole panoply of reforms in it and it went down—sixty-eight votes here though. It didn’t survive in the House.

I believe there’s broad, bipartisan support for the DREAM Act. I just learned, for example, polls are saying 70 percent of the people in this country are in favor of it. And I would be confident it would pass if given an up-or-down vote. So I call on leadership to ensure there is a clean vote on the DREAM Act this month.

As I mentioned, 800,000 young people have been admitted to the DACA program, allowing them to come out of the shadows.

They were educated here. They work here. They pay taxes. They’re integrated into American society. These young people are fiercely patriotic. In every way that truly matters, they are Americans.

Listen to this: 95 percent of DACA recipients are working or in school. That’s 95 percent of 800,000.

The typical DACA recipient came to this country at 6 years old. They’ve known no other home but this one. Many of them only speak English.

Seventy-two percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies—companies. Companies like Apple, Amazon, Facebook and JP Morgan—employ DACA recipients.

DACA recipients are contributing significantly to our economy. Ending the program, it is estimated, would mean a $460.3 billion hit to the national GDP over the next decade.

But protecting DACA recipients isn’t a matter of politics or economics. It’s about, really, what’s right as Americans and human beings.

This is particularly important for me, representing California, because one in four Dreamers—223,000—live, work and study in California.

And I can testify that they’re an essential part of the fabric of our communities. And so it’s important for senators and the American public to know the very real, human side to this issue.

I want to share the story of a remarkable young woman whom I’ve met, whose family I met. Her name is Vianney Sanchez.

She was brought to this country when she was just one. Today she lives in East Oakland. I met her and her family last month. I spoke to her last on Monday night.

Vianney is a 23-year-old graduate from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Psychology. She’s pursuing a career in public service so she can give back to this community.

Vianney’s mother, Maria, who I also met, worked as an oncology nurse at Highland Hospital and her father, Eusebio, worked as a truck driver.

They had no criminal records. They owned their own home, which I visited—a small home in East Oakland. They paid their taxes, and they were in this country for 23 years.

I saw them a week before the mother and father were deported last month, sobbing in their living room. My office has worked on their case for years, and their deportation was truly heartbreaking.

I’ll never forget having to call Maria and tell her that I had spoken to the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, begging her not to deport this family, and that she would be deported and separated from her children the next day.

It was one of the most painful calls I’ve ever had to make.

These heartbreaking photos of the Sanchez family was taken by the San Francisco Chronicle and Bay Area News Group just before Maria and Eusebio were forced to leave. This is Maria, 20 years a nurse at Highland Hospital. This is Vianney. And this is the second oldest child. The oldest child has DACA and it has now fallen to her to support her two sisters, maintain the house, work, and hopefully start her career. Her mother, her father and her American citizen youngest brother are in Mexico. These heartbreaking photos I think tell a story.

Vianney now is facing the uncertainty that she too could lose protection and be deported. Then what would happen to her sisters?

Every day that we fail to act means one more day that Vianney, Melin and Elizabeth are forced to live with this enormous cloud hanging over their heads.

And you know, senator, the fear is palpable. You talk to these young people on the telephone and you could sense what’s happening.

First of all, they know the government knows everything about them. The government knows where they live, what they do. They have to report regularly. This is kind of a conditional program. And so they are up front and out front. And you would think this would give them a sense of security, but it actually gives a sense of insecurity because they don’t know what the future will bring.

I’d like to share the story of another talented and ambitious Californian who has taken full advantage of the opportunity she’s been given.

This is Denisse Rojas. She arrived in the United States when she was just 10 months old, brought here from Mexico. Like many of our immigrant ancestors, her parents wanted to make a better life for their children. And this is a very recent photo of her. You can see she’s beautiful.

Denisse’s family is similar to other families in California.

After arriving in Fremont, her father worked full-time in a restaurant while pursuing his high school diploma at night. Her mother attended community college part-time for seven years to earn her nursing degree.

After years of trying to gain legal status, her parents were forced to move to Canada. That left Denisse.

Denisse excelled in high school, graduating with a 4.3 GPA. She attended UC Berkeley, one of the top public universities in the nation, to study biology and sociology.

She dreamt of going to medical school, driven in part by a family member’s early death from cancer.

The cancer was diagnosed at a late stage because the family’s immigration status made it impossible to afford health insurance.

Denisse worked as a waitress, commuting an hour each way to classes because she couldn’t afford to live on campus. After graduation, she volunteered at San Francisco General Hospital.

Today, and this is her today, she’s in New York at Mt. Sinai medical school—one of the country’s top programs. She’s on track to earn her degree in 2019. You can see her in the middle of this photo in her medical scrubs and how proud she is.

To help other students navigate the admissions process and pursue careers in health and medicine, Denisse co-founded a national nonprofit organization called Pre-Health Dreamers.

Through Pre-Health Dreamers, Denisse has helped many other students together as they work toward their goals.

After graduation, she intends to specialize in emergency medicine and work in low-income communities to provide health care to families like her own that too often go without needed treatment.

Parts of California, particularly our rural counties, are very short on doctors.

This is a big problem in the health care reform. They’re lucky if they have a choice of one insurance. So we desperately need people like Denisse who want to work in communities most in need of skilled health professionals.

Now without DACA or passage of the DREAM Act, Denisse won’t be able ever to come home. She won’t be able to stay. All of the education that has gotten her here—through a top-notch university to a top-notch hospital, I assume as an intern or resident at this time. She wouldn’t have the proper work authorization or accompanying documents. And our country would be denied a highly-qualified, motivated doctor.

In closing, Mr. President, I really believe we have a moral obligation to do all we can to shield these young people from deportation. Remember, they did not break the law. They were brought here as children, many as babies. Some don’t know the language from the land from which they came. They all speak English and very well. They want the American dream and they’re motivated and they’re patriotic.

I was just listening to a young person the other day—all she wanted to do was be in the military. She’s ROTC and wants to be in the military. These are the people who make this country great and we can’t forsake them.”

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