Menendez Strikes Back at Trump, Republicans on Dreamers’ Debate
“Indeed it’s beginning to look like President Trump – the person responsible for ending DACA – has enablers in Congress that have been intent on deporting Dreamers from day one.”
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) spoke on the Senate floor this morning to strike back at Republican efforts to broaden the debate over protecting Dreamers to include dramatic and extreme reforms to limit legal immigration policy as we know it.
Here are the Senator’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
“I come to the floor today out of great concern for America’s Dreamers, whose futures hinge on the ability of this body to keep its word and get something done. I want to be clear who we are talking about when we talk about Dreamers. We aren’t talking about criminals. We aren’t talking about terrorists. We aren’t talking about quote-unquote ‘bad hombres.’
“We are talking about kids as American as apple pie. As I often say, the only country they call home is the United States. The only flag they pledge allegiance to is the American flag. The only national anthem they sing is the Star Spangled Banner. We’re talking about 800,000 young people who were brought to this country as children, and who were able to attain legal protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
“These kids put enormous faith in our government. They came out of the shadows. Passed background checks. And registered with our government all to get a two-year renewable work permit and protection from deportation. Even the CATO Institute says deporting Dreamers – 91 percent of whom are gainfully employed – would hurt America’s economy. At the same time, we’re also talking about thousands of additional Dreamers who were eligible for DACA but didn’t apply. Some couldn’t afford the cost. Others were still working through the lengthy application process.
“These are the Dreamers that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called ‘lazy asses.’ Well, Mr. Kelly, here’s what you don’t understand. The reason they didn’t apply is not because they were lazy. In fact in many cases they didn’t apply because they were afraid – afraid of people like you! They were afraid that if they came out of the shadows and registered with the government, they would end up on a shortlist for deportation. And what’s depressing is that this Administration’s actions have proven them right!
“Now, DACA recipients and undocumented Dreamers alike fear they have targets on their back, and that’s because President Trump put an expiration date on their dreams when he decided to end DACA.
“Let me be clear: DACA was not perfect, and it was never a replacement for truly comprehensive immigration reform. Make no mistake, we still need comprehensive immigration reform. I am as committed as ever to that cause. I was a member of the Gang of Eight back in 2013, when a bipartisan super majority in the Senate passed the most historic reforms to our immigration system since the days of President Ronald Reagan.
“But that debate is a debate for another day. That debate is for what President Trump called ‘Phase II.’
“This week, we’re not here to debate comprehensive immigration reform. We’re not here to debate the numerous types of visas that exist under U.S. law. We’re not here to debate how Mayors run their cities or how police officers do their jobs.
“We’re here to protect Dreamers. We’re here to address a crisis that President Trump started last September when he ended DACA. That’s what this week’s debate is about. It’s about protecting hardworking, upstanding Dreamers across America from being deported to countries they haven’t stepped foot in since they were in diapers. Many of my colleagues have met Dreamers from their states in recent years. And they know that the lion’s share of these kids can’t even remember coming here – only growing up here.
“For the Dreamers who do remember arriving here, they certainly didn’t arrive through any decision of their own. They were babies and toddlers and very young children. I challenge my colleagues to think of any decision of consequence they made when they were babies and toddlers and very young children. I bet you didn’t decide what town you lived in, where your parents worked, or what kind of status they had.
“When we talk about Dreamers, we are talking about kids who’ve grown up American in every sense of the word. We’re talking about 22,000 New Jerseyans. Like Parthiv Patel, who came to New Jersey from India when he was five years-old. He gained DACA status in 2012. Graduated from Drexel Law School in 2016. And became the first Dreamer admitted to the New Jersey Bar in 2018.
We’re also talking about students like Cristopher Rios Martine, a constituent of mine who came here from Colombia at the age of two. Today he’s a junior at Rutgers with a 3.74 GPA. He’s President of the Management Information Systems Association. And he’s interning at Colgate-Palmolive. Cristopher closed by saying ‘I am proud to be a DACA recipient and I plan on contributing as much to this country as I possibly can.’
“But as another dreamer from New Jersey, Sara Mora recently wrote, without DACA her life has become ‘one big question mark.’ One big question mark. The question of whether or not this Congress will act.
“Will we protect Dreamers who’ve become integral to our communities? Who are teaching in our schools? Who are treating our patients? Who are serving in our military and putting their lives on the line? Who are starting families of their own? That’s right – nearly a quarter of DACA recipients are the parents of U.S.-born American children.
“That’s who we are talking about this week. We are not talking about criminals. We are not talking about terrorists. We are not talking about gang bangers or drug dealers. We are talking about Dreamers. They are not undocumented immigrants – they are undocumented Americans who’ve proven themselves worthy of the American dream. Yet the Administration slapped an arbitrary expiration date on their dream, creating a crisis that only Congress can solve.
“I took President Trump at his word when he said he wanted to treat Dreamers with heart. Just as I took Leader McConnell at his word when he said this week would be about protecting them from deportation.
“But now, as I listen to my Republican colleagues on the Senate floor, I’m hearing less and less about Dreamers. And more and more about spending tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on a useless wall that President Trump promised Mexico would pay for; a wall that doesn’t make much sense considering the Trump Administration’s own report noting that illegal border crossings from Mexico have dropped to their lowest level in nearly 50 years.
“Likewise, I’m hearing a whole lot about politically-loaded terms like ‘merit-based immigration’ and ‘chain migration.’ These aren’t technical terms you can find in our laws. They’re political catchphrases designed to incite fear and push policies that forever change how legal immigration works in the United States.
“The more insidious of course is the term chain migration. I am appalled when I hear my colleagues talk about chain migration. Just like I am appalled that the media – even the so-called liberal media – has adopted this phrase as if it’s actually a legitimate term. And I can’t be the only one who thinks the term chain migration is downright insulting to the millions of Americans whose ancestors were actually brought to this country in chains.
“I have heard a lot about family values from my Republican colleagues throughout my time in Congress. The Republican Party has long claimed to be the Party of so-called Family Values. Well, chain migration is a term that de-humanizes families. It’s a term designed to make our system of legal immigration and family reunification sound threatening and illogical.
“But there’s nothing threatening about uniting mothers and fathers. And there’s nothing more commonsense than uniting brothers and sisters and sons and daughters.
“They are not linked by chains. They are bound by blood! And held together by love. Families are the essence of American values and our society. Families are the glue that builds strong communities – the foundation of our country.
“Yet some of my Republican colleagues act as if the nuclear family is a concept that has an expiration date. Well, I loved my daughter since the day she was born, and the day she turned 21, and the day she turned 30. Same as I do my son. I don’t love them any less with each passing year. I don’t love them any less now that they’ve gotten married. In fact I love them more.
“So when Americans need to know that when Republicans speak of ending chain migration they are talking about ending the legal right of U.S. citizens to legally sponsor family members in our immigration system. It’s not chain migration. It’s family reunification.
“That’s what America is about. That’s what immigration policy for the past century has been about: keeping families together – not tearing them apart.
“And the reality is most Americans are in some way the beneficiaries of family reunification. Without it, our country would be a very different place. End family reunification, and we would have never seen the leadership of individuals like Colin Powell. That’s right – his parents wouldn’t have been able to come here without the big-bad chain migration that my colleagues in the Majority decry today.
“End family reunification and suddenly billion-dollar American technology companies like Kingston Technology would have never existed. Before John Tu was a billion-dollar businessman, he was a self-described mediocre student from China. He would have never come to America if it were not for the sponsorship of his U.S. citizen sister. He wasn’t skilled when he got here. And yet he built a groundbreaking company.
“So let’s get real. When President Trump professes his support for merit-based immigration, he doesn’t have a real plan for allowing a million engineers and inventors from around the world to come to the United States. He’s talking about cutting legal immigration by nearly 50 percent. That’s a policy with disastrous implications for the future of this country when you consider basic economic facts.
“Any credible economist will tell you that without steady immigration, America’s global competitiveness will suffer, and we’ll fall behind much larger countries like China and Pakistan and India.
“Even President Donald Trump is a product of ‘chain migration.’ That’s right – Friedrich Trump, Donald Trump’s grandfather, was able to come to the United States from Germany with no English speaking ability, no merit-based skills. Why? Because his sister was already in the United States.
“If Republicans were being honest – they would call chain migration what it really is. They would call it family reunification. But they don’t want to call it family reunification, because they don’t want to own up to their intention, which is to strip U.S. citizens of the right to sponsor their brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers and adult children as immigrants.
“So I ask my colleagues to please give it a rest. If you want to have a debate about the merits of our immigration system – we can have that debate. But that debate over comprehensive immigration reform is not the debate we are having this week.
“This debate is about whether we will do right by America’s Dreamers. This debate is about whether we will listen to the voices of the American people who overwhelmingly want us to solve this crisis.
“According to the latest polls – just out this week from Quinnipiac University – 81 percent of Americans support giving Dreamers a path to citizenship. Yet week after week, month after month, Dreamers have languished in uncertainty. Republicans didn’t let us protect them in September. Or October. Or November. Or December. Or January.
“And yet throughout all this time wasted, I hear my colleagues in the Majority say such nice things about Dreamers. How talented they are. How hopeful they are. How important they are. But I say to them today that it’s getting harder and harder to take your commitment to Dreamers seriously when at every opportunity you have to do something, you do nothing.
“Indeed it’s beginning to look like President Trump – the person responsible for ending DACA – has enablers in Congress that have been intent on deporting Dreamers from day one. If that’s not the case, now is the time to prove it. Because March 5th is just around the corner. And come March, America’s Dreamers will see their dreams extinguished, and replaced with deportation orders to nations they’ve never called home.
“So if my colleagues want to have a debate about comprehensive immigration reform, we can have that debate. But not today. Not this week. Not until we protect the Dreamers living in fear of deportation due to President Trump’s reckless decisions. A President who once said about Dreamers that “We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud.”
“Well, the polls show that deporting Dreamers will not make Americans happy and proud.
“The time for talk is over. The time for kind words is over. The time for excuses is over. So I hope this week, Congress takes action. It’s time we let America see who stands with Dreamers and who is complicit in their deportation.
“These young men and women have shown incredible courage and strength in the face of uncertainty. They were handed a crisis, and created a movement. They’ve shared their stories and their dreams, and in doing so they have captured the hearts of the American people.
“So I urge my colleagues here in the Senate not to break America’s heart, because our hearts are bigger – and our future is brighter – with Dreamers here in this country, right where they belong.”
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