WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez delivered remarks on the Senate floor this afternoon regarding the fear and panic being felt across the entire immigrant community post-election, and the urgent need to protect immigrant families from being separated by any future administrations.
His remarks as prepared for delivery:
“I rise today as I have many times before to discuss the urgent need for the United States to have an immigration system that reflects our values as a nation of immigrants. Today, in my first floor speech on the subject since Donald Trump won the election, I am deeply troubled by the fear and panic I hear from our immigrant community. From our young immigrants known as DREAMers and their families, to the workers on the field, in our kitchens and our homes, their panic is justified and palpable because of the inflammatory remarks made by President-elect Trump on the campaign trail about immigrants.
“His campaign promises made it seem as if no immigrant was safe from deportation – even law abiding decent people who came into this country searching for the American dream for themselves and their children. The threat of deportation was heard loud and clear by over 744,000 young law-abiding immigrants who are American in every way except for a piece a paper.
“These DREAMers were brought to the United States, many as infants or toddlers for reasons beyond their control or knowledge. They grew up in America going to school, pledging allegiance to the U.S. flag and singing our national anthem. The effects of deporting them or their families would be incomprehensible and destructive.
“The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – or DACA – has been a tremendously successful program. It is something I fought for to allow young men and women to come out of the shadows and step forward to register themselves with our government. DACA has allowed over 744,000 undocumented youth who came to the U.S. as children to obtain temporary protection from deportation and a two-year work permit that is renewable, if they first registered with the government by handing over their personal information and the information of their immediate families, passing a criminal background check, and paying $465 in fees. So their fears of deportation are justified.
“The DACA program now has the potential of becoming a registry of millions of undocumented immigrants, who are now exposed for seeking a better life for themselves and their kids. Let’s think about this for a second. We asked kids, who came into this country without any notion that they were doing anything wrong, to come out of the shadows, voluntarily turn over their information and the information of their immediate families in exchange for protection from deportation, a work permit and a chance for a better life.
“And as early as next year, once again through no fault of their own, these young immigrants and their families are at risk of losing it all. The human cost is too high to pay – a cost measured in the thousands of parents separated from their children who are deported, husbands and wives separated from their spouses, and millions of families who are torn apart because of our broken immigration system.
“Among his many campaign promises, President-elect Trump pledged to end the DACA program. This means DACA-recipients – a group of individuals the U.S. government has deemed as model citizens that pose absolutely no threat to our national security – would be at risk for deportation and could no longer continue working legally. We are talking here about children who have grown up in the U.S. – children who attend our schools, children who serve our communities, children who were given a chance to be fully integrated into the only country many of them have ever known.
“If the DACA program is dismantled, young immigrants will be stripped of their jobs, education, and forced back into the shadows of our society. In fact, the Center for American Progress finds that ending DACA would cost the United States $433.4 billion in gross domestic product over the next ten years.
“On election night, President-elect Trump said ‘now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division.’ He later said in an interview that millions of undocumented immigrants are ‘terrific people.’
“I hope the next Administration thinks long and hard about ‘binding the wounds of division.’ A good start would be a clear and unequivocal message that there will be no mass deportation taskforce and that the DACA program will continue – something that the President-elect already alluded to this week in an interview with TIME magazine, saying: ‘We're going to work something out that's going to make people happy and proud…[DREAMers] got brought here at a very young age, they've worked here, they've gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they're in never-never land because they don't know what's going to happen.’
“It appears to me that we are getting to a place where there is universal respect and admiration for DREAMers. This acknowledgement offers a glimmer of hope for a productive way forward.
“But I do not intend to sacrifice one set of immigrants for another. Let me be clear about our nation’s immigrants – it is not enough to just say DREAMers are terrific people. Protecting a temporary program is not enough, although the panic and sense of urgency to protect these young immigrants is justified. It is not enough because the reality is DREAMers do not exist in a vacuum; they have parents and loved ones who have instilled values, work ethic, and supported them to pursue an education and reach their full potential to benefit our country.
“Their parents are also terrific people and so are many other hard-working immigrants who have lived in this country for years, are not criminals, and have integrated themselves into the tapestry of American society. We know them. They go to church with us, they attend parent-teacher conferences and are our neighbors. They pick our crops, watch our kids, open businesses and perform back-breaking work to keep the gears of this economy turning.
“Immigration is not an easy problem to fix, but we came close in 2013 when the Senate came together to pass comprehensive immigration reform. I was part of the bipartisan Gang of 8 that produced a bill, S. 744, which passed with the strong bipartisan support of three-fourths of this chamber. This bill is a strong model for reforming our immigration system as we look ahead to the new Congress.
“S.744 addressed the key pillars necessary for a functioning legal immigration system. It addressed the 11 million undocumented, so we can know who is here to pursue the American dream and who is here to do it harm. It reformed the legal immigration system for high and low skilled workers, had strong family reunification provisions, put DREAMers on a path to citizenship, and included tough border security measures. S.744 wasn’t perfect but was a significant milestone in our nation’s efforts to truly reform our immigration system.
“We must remember what our economy and America needs. Our nation will be stronger when there is an accountable path to citizenship for the undocumented living in the U.S., our borders are secure, employers are held accountable for who they hire, jobs are filled with qualified and documented workers who contribute to the economy, and families are kept together.
“Since then, with an immigration system as flawed as ours, and with so many things to still fix, DACA has been a beacon of hope – one shining light leading the way toward fairness, justice, and a better life for so many young immigrants looking for a chance to succeed in America as Americans. Yes, abolishing it would be a tragic mistake for an Administration seeking to unite what they helped divide.
“But let me be clear, I have said all along: We cannot lose sight of our ultimate objective, the ONLY real solution is a permanent legislative solution that doesn’t pick winners and losers among the most vulnerable in our society.
“That is why I am pleased to once again see a bipartisan coalition of voices resurfacing so we can work towards a bipartisan moment to fix our immigration system once again. Because beyond stopping those who wish to turn the clock back on any progress we have made, we still need to implement a functioning legal immigration system for all.
“We need to make sure we don’t take a giant step back, and focus our nation’s resources against the most vulnerable, talented and hard working. I have always been and remain committed to solving this problem in a fair, comprehensive manner that reforms our immigration system. And I will continue to work with a bipartisan coalition of voices towards this goal. Our DREAMers, their parents, immigrant families and our nation deserve nothing less.
“Irrelevant of who occupies the White house, I will never stop fighting for those who - like my mother - came to this country in the last century to give their families a chance to contribute to America’s exceptionalism – and for all those who still await for us to give them a chance to contribute to America’s exceptionalism in this century.”