Broader Options for Americans Act

Floor Speech

Date: Feb. 14, 2018
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Immigration


Mr. HEINRICH. Mr. President, as the Senate takes to the floor to debate a long-overdue, bipartisan solution for Dreamers--young immigrants who came to our country as children--I would like to tell you a story about one Dreamer in my home State of New Mexico to illustrate what is at stake here this week.

Immigrants have long helped to write the economic, social, and cultural story of my home State of New Mexico and, for that matter, our entire Nation. We are, after all, a nation of immigrants. Over the last centuries, our Nation's foundation and the enduring American spirit were built by the hard work and the dreams of so many striving young immigrants.

When President Trump made the outrageous decision last fall to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program--DACA--he threw hundreds of thousands of Dreamers deep into fear and uncertainty. Two weeks ago, I was proud to welcome Ivonne Orozco-Acosta, one of the estimated 7,000 Dreamers from New Mexico, as my guest at the State of the Union Address.

Ivonne's family immigrated to the United States when she was 12 years old. She learned English through middle school and graduated from high school in Estancia, NM. It was during these challenging years of learning that Ivonne was encouraged by her teachers to grow and to learn. Ivonne knows the power that educators hold to create positive change in students' perspective of themselves.

Ivonne attended the University of New Mexico, where she earned her BA in secondary education with a concentration in Spanish. It is estimated that somewhere between 500 and 1,000 students at the University of New Mexico right now are Dreamers like Ivonne. These are some of our brightest students, and they are our future leaders. Since she graduated from UNM 4 years ago, Ivonne has been teaching Spanish at the Public Academy for Performing Arts, a charter school in Albuquerque, NM.

Ivonne told me what DACA has meant for her. DACA allowed her to get a work permit, to follow her passion for education. It made it possible for her to buy a home and her first car. It has also given her an opportunity to impact the lives of her students each day and to contribute to our State's economy as a teacher and as a taxpayer. DACA gave Ivonne, in her words, ``a sliver of hope''--hope that she will finally be able to have a permanent home and a place in the only country that she knows how to call home.

Because of her excellent teaching in the classroom and her incredible passion for her students, Ivonne was just selected as the 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year by the New Mexico Public Education Department. That is right; Ivonne has been recognized as the teacher of the year for our entire State.

Ivonne's commitment to education and to giving back to her community is truly inspiring, and it reminds us just how much is at stake for New Mexico and our country in this debate. Our State already struggles to keep schools filled with teachers and has one of the highest teacher turnover rates in the Nation. Dreamers across the country, like Ivonne, are stepping up to serve our communities, to teach our students.

Nearly 9,000 of the Dreamers who received temporary legal status and work permits through the DACA Program are teachers like Ivonne. Many more are firefighters; they are police officers; they are scientists; they are doctors; they are members of our military. These inspiring young people are Americans in every sense of the word, except for a piece of paper, and they want nothing more than to be productive members of their communities. But until Congress passes the Dream Act, these young people like Ivonne will continue to worry about whether they will be able to stay in school, keep working, contributing to our economy, or remain even in their homes and their neighborhoods.

I have to ask: Why would we even consider threatening to deport the teacher of the year from my State? I simply cannot accept that as living up to all that our Nation stands for.

The Santa Fe New Mexican covered Ivonne's visit to Washington. The New Mexican's editorial board said: ``It is no exaggeration to state that as the immigration debate goes, so does her future.''

They went on to call the immigration debate we are engaging here in Congress as a fight ``for the soul of this country, founded and strengthened by immigrants throughout our history.''

I, for one, hope that we can learn from the best and most challenging parts of our Nation's history of immigration and understand that Dreamers like Ivonne are part of the immigration story that has always made our Nation great. Deporting these young people who grew up in America and want to contribute to their Nation is not what the America that I know and love would do. Dreamers deserve commonsense, compassionate, and responsible policy.

Two weeks ago, while President Trump was taking cheap shots at immigrants during his State of the Union Address and insinuating that all immigrants and asylum seekers pose an existential danger to our children and our families, I couldn't help but think of the impacts of his words on Ivonne as she sat in the Gallery. There are hundreds of thousands of Dreamers like her. They are truly bright spots and rising stars in our communities and in our country, and the time has come for us to stop playing politics with their lives. Let's stop stirring up fear and division when we should be working to find a real path forward.

This week, I believe we have a path forward here in the Senate in this debate, and we must pass a bipartisan immigration bill that includes the Dream Act in the Senate and in the House. I will do everything I can to pass a solution for Dreamers, to create rational border security policies, and to make the investments that our border region and its communities actually need.

I will stand with New Mexicans against President Trump's fear-based and un-American views, frankly, on immigration and his offensive and wasteful border wall that have no place in this debate.

I hope that each of us in this body recognizes our moral responsibility and our obligation to live up to our Nation's ideals and its values. We must act with a sense of urgency to find a way forward for these Dreamers. Every day that passes without our passing the Dream Act is another day of desperation and limbo for young people like Ivonne who only know America as their home. Now is the time to give these young Americans a permanent place and an earned path to citizenship in our Nation. I will do everything I can every step of the way to make that happen.

Thank you, Mr. President.