Thursday, October 25, 2007

Washington, DC

Yesterday, I flew to Washington, DC to lobby our senators in support of the DREAM Act.

When planning the trip, it was my understanding that the bill would come before the U. S. Senate sometime in early November.

To everyone's surprise the bill came up yesterday for a "procedural" vote that would determine its near-term fate. To move forward the proposal needed 60 votes. It managed to receive 52. So, back to the drawing board.

Traveling with me were three delightful students from Dallas. Jose, Monica and Jesse--all would benefit from the relief provided by this immigration bill. Each of these wonderful young people were brought to this country when they were small children by parents who were not documented. None of them were consulted about the family move. Since coming to this country, all three have been great students, model citizens and hard workers. All three want to go to college--two are currently enrolled, in spite of the fact that when and if they graduate, they will not be able to work legally. One would like to join the U. S. Armed Forces.

During what turned out to be a long day, these students talked to top staff members in the office of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX).

Senator Hutchison worked hard to see the bill move forward. Had her efforts been successful, her staff was prepared to present a balanced set of changes to the bill to make it more acceptable to everyone. She exhibited great leadership, as she worked for a bi-partisan solution to the problem. It was also very clear that she understands the ethical and moral implications of the issues surrounding the debate, as well as of the problems facing these wonderful students.

She made us proud. Her staff assured us that they were not giving up.

I wish everyone could have heard these students explain their lives, their goals and their dreams. As they told their stories, tears flowed. It was moving just to be in the room with them.

Senator Cornyn would not allow the students in his offices, saying that he nor his staff would sit down with anyone in violation of federal law--never mind that the offense in question is a civil matter, not criminal. And never mind that these children did not knowingly violate any law when they were brought here.

His staff explained his "No" vote as the result of procedural/political concerns and the fear that the bill would not be open for amendment or debate if passed to the next step. We pointed out that Senator Hutchison, also a Republican, had reached a much different conclusion and, in fact, was waiting to deliver a bill with language and provisions that could break the logjam. We engaged in a heated debate and left with the promise to continue the conversation.

The Dallas Morning News published a story this morning by Washington Bureau reporter Dave Michaels quoting Senator Cornyn as saying the "sympathetic" nature of the issues surrounding the DREAM Act make it politically unwise to act now. He judges it better to use the legislation and the issue as a political tool in deciding on any comprehensive immigration reform down the road ("Migrant bill fails to pass Senate," 2A, October 25, 2007).

That may be smart politically, but it is terrible policy for the hundreds of thousands of students across the nation who are like my three young friends.

Why would we want to lose them to our national life and economy, especially at a time when we need more bi-ligual professionals than ever in our history? Why waste the investment we've already made in these young lives? Why keep them living in fear, needless fear?

The question here is not one of "sympathy," though surely we've not reached the place as a people where sympathy is a weak or negative value, have we? In fact, the question is about morality, good faith, fairness, justice and solving a horrible and pressing problem.

My young friends returned to Dallas a bit frustrated and a lot disappointed. They are concerned about their future. To be sent back to Mexico after 13 years in Dallas, with no family, no hometown, no idea what to do. . .those prospects would concern anyone.

They brought their cameras for the trip.

After our meetings in the Senate, we took a cab to the Lincoln Memorial. I wish everyone could have seen them. Standing where Dr. King stood. Gazing up at the amazing statue of President Lincoln. Watching the video presentation in the small museum space. They were so proud to be in Washington, the capitol city of the only nation they've known--the place they call home.



Lee said...

I just sent the following to Senator Cornyn.

Senator, you and your staff should be ashamed of how you treated Larry James and his associates. What would have been the worst thing to happen if you met with the outstanding young students that Larry brought with him? Might you have been impressed with these young people? To refuse to even meet looks petty and small. YOU should also be ashamed of your vote on the DREAM Act, one that Senator Hutchison supported so strongly.

Anonymous said...

Most of us understand the trauma that these young people are going through. The problem with the DREAM Act appears to be one that is plaguing the country in almost every aspect and that is a band-aid approach to everything in government. Certainly, Senator Hutchinson's amendments would have been helpful but there were too many loopholes in the act to be able to satisfy the concerns of a great many Americans. I put the blame on the Congress for not addressing issues on what is a negotiated best for the country. Too many special interests have too much to say about what affects our citizens and Congress seems to listen to them more than the constituency. Immigration is good, taking care of young people like Jose and Marie is good, providing means for hardworking, honest people to find a way to citizenship is good. Allowing a means to citizenship for criminal elements and not protecting our borders and not establishing a workable guest worker/speeding immigration approval process is just flat wrong and that is what Congress is doing.

Anonymous said...

I think what we are seeing is a great distrust of government to fix anything. And politics on both sides of the aisle is preventing the country from moving forward. There is no trust.

Anonymous said...

No doubt about it--Harry Reid has had a bad two weeks.

Larry James said...

Part of our problem is casting everything as Red vs Blue, Anonymous 11:31. Yesterday's vote on the DREAM Act included the support of 52 Democrats and Republicans. Those that voted against were also mixed.

It has been a bad two weeks, but not for Sen. Reid. It's been a bad two weeks for the nation and its most vulnerable people.

Anonymous said...

I think one problem is that people have real concerns about the Dream Act which I have never heard addressed by the ones who are for it. For example, if they get legal status they can immediately sponsor any family members, allowing millions more to enter the U.S. Also,what proof would they have to have that they were family members? If they use their green card status toward their 5 years needed for citizenship, that would be putting them ahead of lawful immigrants. The list goes on....

Anonymous said...

On everything from gun control to Iraq to immigration, John Cornyn is a far right toadie. He makes me ashamed to be a registered Republican. Hurrah for Kay Bailey on this one!