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Congressional Essay: Sen. Dick Durbin

Posted by Will Rice (will) on Aug 05 2011 at 12:53 PM
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By U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin

Ten years ago, I was contacted by Ann Monaco, a teacher at the Merit School of Music in Chicago.
One of her students – Tereza Lee – was a musical prodigy who had played as a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  She had been accepted into several of the country’s most prestigious music schools.

But Tereza had a problem: her parents had brought her to the United States when she was two, and she was undocumented.

We contacted the Immigration and Naturalization Service and they told us that the solution to her problem was simple: Tereza would have to leave the United States and go back to Korea – a country she had never known.

To me, that didn’t seem right and it didn’t seem fair.  So I wrote a bill called the DREAM Act to give Tereza, and thousands of others with similar stories, a chance to earn legal status if they have good moral character and go to college or serve in the military.

These Dreamers were brought to the United States as children.  It was not their decision to come to this country, but they grew up here pledging allegiance to our flag and singing our national anthem. They are American in their hearts, but find themselves – through no fault of their own – in a legal twilight zone at risk of being deported to countries that they barely remember and where they may not even speak the language.

When I meet them, I see the future doctors, nurses, scientists, and soldiers who will contribute to our economy and our armed forces.

They would happily go to the back of the line and wait their turn for citizenship, but there is no line for them to get into. The DREAM Act would help solve that problem.

In the decade since I first introduced this legislation, it has been reported out of committee by a large bipartisan margin; it has been passed by the House of Representatives; and it has received a bipartisan majority vote in the Senate, only to fall in the end because of a filibuster.

I will not give up on these bright young people – I won’t because Tereza didn’t.  She obtained her BA and Masters Degree from the Manhattan School of Music. In 2009, she played her debut at Carnegie Hall. Today, she is pursuing her Doctorate in music.

Our country needs her talent, and we need the talents and skills of the thousands of other Dreamers.

A bipartisan majority has voted for the DREAM Act every time we have brought it up for a vote in the Senate, but we haven’t crossed the finish line yet. I hope that this is the year we finally address one of the most compelling human rights issues of our time and pass the DREAM Act.

Giving these bright, talented immigrants the chance to fulfill their potential and pursue the American Dream will make America a stronger country.  Equally important: it’s the right thing to do.

Senator Durbin (D-IL) is the chamber’s Assistant Majority Leader.