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.