Tuesday December 12th, 2017

Cortez Masto: Congress Must Act Now to Protect Dreamers from Deportation

“We cannot turn our backs on Dreamers. We must embrace them. They are living examples of what America stands for as a nation built through the sweat and hard work of generations of immigrants.” 

“Blue jeans, hamburgers, ketchup, YouTube, Google, Apple. Even America’s best idea—our national parks. These are iconic American inventions, and yet they were all created, in whole or in part, by immigrants.”

“We must pass the Dream Act before the end of the year.” 

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) today delivered a speech on the Senate floor, urging her colleagues to pass the Dream Act before the end of the year. Below are her remarks as prepared for delivery:

I rise today to call on my colleagues to address a crisis we are facing in our schools, our neighborhoods, and our communities.

Since this Administration ended DACA, more than 11,000 DACA recipients have lost their status. Each week, 851 Dreamers are losing their protection. If we fail to pass legislation to protect Dreamers, 800,000 kids will be forced to watch their lives fall apart. They will lose their drivers’ licenses, their health insurance, their scholarships, their student loans, and their work permits. They will face the constant threat of being detained, separated from their families, and forced out of the only home they know.

This is not just a crisis for these kids and their families, it’s a crisis for our country.

It’s a crisis for businesses across America. If Dreamers lose their jobs, employers will incur nearly $3.4 billion in turnover costs.

The Center for American Progress estimates that our GDP will shrink by $460.3 billion over the next decade.

Over 800 business leaders from companies like Airbnb, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Lyft, and Microsoft, have signed a letter to Congress, urging legislators to pass the Dream Act.

The value that Dreamers add to our economy is apparent to our country’s most innovative businesses. It’s apparent to religious groups and advocacy organizations all across the nation.

What is Congress missing? Why are some members of this body unable to see all of the contributions these kids make?

This is also a moral crisis.

We cannot turn our backs on Dreamers. We must embrace them. They are living examples of what America stands for as a nation built through the sweat and hard work of generations of immigrants. 

Immigrants are a fundamental part of our communities. They always have been. They have built our railroads, our cities, and our highways. They have founded businesses, invented groundbreaking technologies, and discovered lifesaving cures. 

Blue jeans, hamburgers, ketchup, YouTube, Google, Apple. Even America’s best idea—our national parks. These are iconic American inventions, and yet they were all created, in whole or in part, by immigrants.

Immigrants have also held public office. One of Nevada’s first Senators was an immigrant.

His name was James Graham Fair, and he was born to a poor family in Ireland. His father brought him to the United States when he was a child, to escape the potato famine.

He grew up on a farm in Illinois, and moved to Nevada in the 1850s to get involved in silver mining. He made a fortune when a repository of silver ore in Northern Nevada, known as the “Comstock Lode,” was discovered.

The discovery of silver made him wealthy beyond belief. Overnight, he became one of Nevada’s “silver kings.” He invested his fortune in railroads and real estate, and eventually accumulated over $40 million—more than a billion dollars today. In 1881, he was elected to represent Nevada in the United States Senate.

In 1882, this Irish immigrant—a man who became a “king” because of what he was able to extract from the soil of our country— turned his back on other immigrants and voted in favor of the Chinese Exclusion Act. 

The Chinese Exclusion Act was a watershed moment in the history of American immigration policy because it was the first time the federal government restricted immigration on the basis of race.

I tell you this story because to me, the Chinese Exclusion Act exemplifies a vicious truth: that immigrants and their descendants are often the ones fighting to keep the next generation of immigrants out.

Sadly, this group of lawmakers—a group that includes many descendants of immigrants—is in danger of making the same mistake again.

When are we going to acknowledge what basic economics, history, and scientific research have all proven to be true—that immigrants make our economy stronger? That immigrants come to our country and start businesses, apply for patents, create jobs, and invent technologies that change our world?

The 800,000 Dreamers in this country don’t want special treatment. They want the chance to live their lives and do all of those things, without the fear of deportation looming over their heads.

We have a President who is not just refusing to give them that chance, but actively spreading lies and hate about who they are. 

I wish I could say that this xenophobia—this hate—is something we’ve never seen before.

But anti-immigrant sentiment is nothing new. These attempts to shut our doors are as old as our nation itself. 

We are a nation of immigrants. But we are caught in a vicious cycle. We look to our ancestors for inspiration. We benefit from the contributions of immigrants. But every generation, we default to the arrogance of power. We treat immigrants as scapegoats and keep them out. 

A teacher from Sparks, Nevada, recently contacted my office to share the fear and uncertainty kids and families are feeling right now. David wrote: 

“I teach music at Diedrichsen Elementary School in Sparks, and my wife is the Assistant Principal at Desert Heights Elementary in Stead… We are seeing an increase in stress, acting-out behaviors and absences in our students from immigrant families. Another friend of mine who teaches at a school with a large immigrant population has told me about days when large numbers of children are absent because of a rumors of raids by ICE.” 

These are the consequences of using immigrants as scapegoats. 

We are facing another watershed moment in our country’s history. People will ask, where were you, when Dreamers’ lives were hanging in the balance? Did you use your voice? Did you speak out? 

It’s time to stop this cycle. It’s time to do the right thing and pass the Dream Act. Not just because it will add billions of dollars to our economy. But because threats to immigrants are a threat to our communities, our safety, our lives, and the future of this country.

The Dream Act is an investment in our future. Republicans in Congress are looking for a way to reduce the federal deficit.

Well, I have a solution for you. Passing the Dream Act would decrease the federal deficit by $2.2 billion over ten years. 

It turns out that the refrain we always hear—immigrants are taking away jobs—is a myth. The economy is not a zero-sum game. Research shows that immigrants drive growth. They generate new patents at twice the rate of native-born Americans. 

In 2014, they earned $1.3 trillion and contributed $105 billion in state and local taxes, and nearly $224 billion in federal taxes.

Immigrants are 30% more likely to start a business in the United States than non-immigrants, and 18% of small business owners in the United States are immigrants. In 2007, those small businesses employed an estimated 4.7 million people and generated more than $776 billion in revenue.

But this fight is not just about our economy. At its core, this fight is about 800,000 uncertain futures. 

When you meet Dreamers, like I have, you will see that they are not numbers. They are not graphs. They are hard-working young people who are putting themselves through school and supporting their families.

They are young people like Maria, a Dreamer who was brought to the United States when she was four years old. 

Now twenty-two, she is working as a teacher and director of the infant/toddler program at a Montessori school in Washoe County. She already has an Associate’s degree, but she plans to enroll in the University of Nevada, Reno, to pursue a Bachelor’s in education, human development, and family studies.

Maria sent me a letter to tell me her story. She wrote, “I, as a Dreamer, am being truly affected by not knowing what will happen with my future.  Since we moved here, I have learned what the meaning of true work ethic is and how to be a positive asset to our nation.  Being a DACA recipient means I can never have a criminal record, I pay taxes, I have a great job teaching our youth, and am still working hard to continue my education… I am here thanks to the selflessness and courage my mother showed, and I believe any parent would do the same for their children without hesitation. My mother followed all the rules to quickly become a true hard working member of this nation.”

In her letter, Maria told me that all she wanted was a chance to follow the rules, show her potential, and continue working as a teacher.

Maria’s story is both an immigrant story and an American story.

It’s a story about what happens when we give Dreamers a chance.

Maria’s story is no different from Sergey Brin’s, the co-founder of Google, who came here from Russia. It’s no different from Madeleine Albright’s, the first female Secretary of State—an immigrant from Czechoslovakia. It’s no different from that of John Muir, a Scottish immigrant, or that of Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian immigrant, or that of Albert Einstein, a German refugee.

Dreamers’ stories are no different from my own. My grandfather was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. He crossed the Rio Grande to come to this country. He served in our military, became a citizen, married my grandmother, and raised a family.

My father began his career as a parking attendant at the Las Vegas Dunes Hotel. He worked his way up through the ranks to become the first Latino on the Clark County Commission and then President of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. 

My mom and dad worked all their lives so that my sister and I could become the first in our family to earn a college degree. 

My family taught me that when someone opens a door for you, you hold it open for the next person coming along after.

That’s what I’m here in the Senate to do. To make sure that every American gets that same opportunity my grandfather had. That my parents had. That my sister and I had.

It’s time to recognize that Dreamers are Americans. That their stories are no different from any of ours. That by taking away their protections, by allowing them to return to the shadows, we are allowing a vicious cycle to grind 800,000 dreams into the dust.

It’s time to learn from the mistakes of our predecessors. We must pass the Dream Act before the end of the year.



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