Murray Says DREAM Act Provides Hope and Opportunity

Oct 24 2007

After Senate vote fails, Senator urges reconsideration of vital legislation

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash), an original co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, today spoke out about the importance of the legislation.  Murray urged her colleagues to reconsider their votes and said that Congress should pay more than just lip-service to the idea of opportunity for all.

"In the Senate today we had the chance to pay more than just lip service to the idea of opportunity for all.  Unfortunately, a few members of this body didn't think that was an American priority," Senator Murray said.  "But I still believe in the DREAM Act and its power to not only give hope to many today, but to make our country stronger in the future."

The Senate voted on a motion to proceed to consideration of the DREAM Act, a narrowly-tailored, bipartisan bill that would give the children of undocumented immigrants who plan do attend college or enter the military a path towards citizenship if they meet certain requirements.  The motion to proceed failed 52-44.  Sixty votes were needed to move forward.

The full text of Senator Murray's floor remarks on the DREAM Act follows:

"Mr. President, our nation was built on the belief that no matter where we start from in life, we all have a shot at the American dream. 

I, for one, am proud of this reputation and believe it is one we should continue to promote and maintain. 

Unfortunately, Mr. President, somewhere along the way – amid politics and rhetoric – the belief that we should now turn our backs on certain children in our communities has gained a voice.

Mr. President, I am here today because I still believe that we need to make sure that America remains a country of opportunity for all children
no matter where they come from, no matter what language they speak at home, and no matter what obstacles they have to overcome.

In the Senate today we had the chance to pay more than just lip service to the idea of opportunity for all.   Unfortunately, a few members of this body didn't think that was an American priority.

But I still believe in the DREAM Act and its power to not only give hope to many today, but to make our country stronger in the future.

In fact, we can still give hope to many by passing the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

The DREAM Act is narrowly-tailored, bipartisan legislation that would give a select group of undocumented students the chance to become permanent residents if they:

  • Came to this country as children,
  • Are long-term U.S. residents,
  • Have good moral character, and
  • Attend college for at least two years or enlist in the military.

 Mr. President, Senator Durbin previously brought up the DREAM Act as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill to address critical manpower shortages that are facing our military forces. 

Under the DREAM Act, tens of thousands of well-qualified potential recruits would become eligible for military service for the first time. 

These are young people who love our country and are eager to serve in the Armed Forces during a time of war. 

The DREAM Act would add a very strong incentive to enlist because it provides a path to permanent legal status.

The DREAM Act would also make qualified students eligible for temporary legal immigration status upon high school graduation that would lead to permanent residency if they attend college. 

Mr. President, critics of this amendment would have you believe that this is simply a matter of politics.  Well, it's not. 

This is about real people, and I'd like to tell you about one of them.

Recently, the Seattle Times – a newspaper in my state – featured the story of a young woman named Maria who has lived in the United States illegally since her parents brought her here at age 5.

Maria completed high school in Washington state.  She did well and was an active member of the student body.  In fact, she was an elected class officer three years in a row.

Maria was accepted to the University of Washington.  She graduated with a high GPA and honors in her department of study.

Mr. President, Maria is now in her second year of law school, and to quote the Seattle Times:

"By all rights, save one, she should have the world by the tail.  But she is dogged by the questions:  When she graduates, will she be able to take the bar exam?    Will she be able to keep helping low-income people as she's done during her internship this summer with a non-profit legal-aid organization?

The DREAM Act is my only hope" Maria said in the article – "I hope and pray for it."

Mr. President, isn't Maria exactly the type of young person we should be investing in?

She studied hard.  She got good grades.  She has served her school and her community.  And now she wants to continue to serve her community and our country – the only home she has ever known. 

It's not Maria's fault that her parents brought her to America when she was five years old.

And it's not Maria's fault that Congress has not yet passed the comprehensive immigration reform that we clearly need.

But yet it is the thousands of Maria's out there who ARE living the consequences.

We need comprehensive immigration reform.

But we also need a government that invests in our children and
understands that the face of the American Dream is not just: one class,
or one race, or one religion.

Our nation is filled with young people who love this country, have beat the odds, and who was should be investing in. 

We will reap the return we invest.   And the reason I know, is from personal experience. 

Mr. President, this is a real issue touching real communities across our nation.

I recently received a letter from the Superintendent of the Lake Chelan School District in North Central Washington. 

He wrote – and I quote –

"Each year, I watch students who have worked hard to be successful during high school struggle to continue their education after graduation due to their immigration status. 

"These students are an important part of America's future, and we must give them the opportunity to further their education, contribute to society, and help build the American dream for generations to come.

"Allowing these young people to flourish is not only fair to them, but also adds value to our country's rich, vibrant, and diverse culture.  They deserve that opportunity to succeed regardless of the outcome of the current immigration debate."

Mr. President, let's remember that this debate isn't just about immigration.

It's about the type of country we want to be, what we stand for, and what type of future we all want to build. 

It's easy to get caught up in the specifics of one policy or another, but I would encourage my colleagues to not lose sight of the bigger picture because this debate touches nearly every aspect of American life – from our economy to our security, and from our classrooms to our workplaces.

And most importantly, it speaks to our values.

I recently received a letter from a high school senior named Victor.  Victor lives in Walla Walla, a small town on the Washington-Oregon border.

Victor wrote:

"I came to the U.S. when I was 10 years old.  My most difficult and only challenge I have faced since I came to the U.S. is education. 

"I came to this country not knowing a single word of English; therefore I had to learn it as fast as I could.  I was held back a grade and put into English as a Second Language classes. 

"It took me about a year to learn it well enough to where I was able to be in classes with native speakers.

Victor continues:

"I am currently part of the National Honor Society and I also take part in fall and spring sports.  I have been accepted to the University of Washington and three other Washington universities…My plans are to go to the University of Washington and get a degree in computer science. 

"Unfortunately, I come from a low-income family, making it hard for me to make further plans about my education.  Currently the federal government will not help with any financial aid to any non-citizen student in the United States.  How do you expect us to improve ourselves and succeed in this country?"

Mr. President, I'd like to ask my colleagues how they would answer Victor's question. 

How do we expect our nation to continue to be one of hope and opportunity, if we close doors to our children's futures rather than handing them the keys to success?

All of our children should have the opportunity to become more successful than their parents – and none of them should be punished for their parents' decisions.

We have thousands of dedicated, motivated and gifted students who have been forced into the shadows through no fault of their own.

Like Victor and Maria they have beaten odds many of us could never even imagine and they want to serve and contribute to America's future. 

It would be our mistake to say no.

I strongly encourage my colleagues to reconsider their votes today and to say 'YES' to the DREAM Act and 'YES' to a richer, stronger, more vibrant American Dream for all of us for generations to come."