- Synopsis: IntroductionKeywords: Senator Dick Durbin; Richard Durbin; Illinois; Democratic whip; DREAM Act; DACA; Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; Succeed Act; Raise America's Children Act; DREAMers; Dreamers; JROTC; Junior Reserve Officer in Training CorpsTranscript: LAURA VIVALDO CHOLULA: All right. My name is Laura Vivaldo Cholula. I am here working on behalf of the NIU Latino Oral History Project. Today is Friday, September 28th. And it's 3:10 [P.M.]. I'm here with Senator Dick Durbin. He is the 47th U.S. Senator from the state of Illinois. He is the state's senior senator and the convener of the Illinois bipartisan Congressional Delegation. Durbin also serves as the Democratic whip, the second-highest ranking position among the Senate Democrats. He's been selected to this leadership post by his Democratic colleagues every two years since 2005 and he has been elected to the US Senate in 1996 first and he was reelected 2002, 2008 and 2014. Senator Durbin, you have been fighting for the DREAM Act. You have a series of accomplishments as you have but most of them related to immigration...Are the introduction of the DREAM Act in 2001. You've highlighted a number of undocumented youth in the past and currently as an effort to pass legislation by sharing their stories, you asked President Obama to establish a DACA program with a Republican colleague. You recently condemned Trump's decisions to cut the number of refugees being resettled in the United States and on the ending of the DACA program. You have come out against the Succeed Act and the Raise America's Children Act and you have highlighted the contributions of DREAMers who served in the military are involved or who are involved in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, so JROTC programs, so I want to thank you for that.
- Synopsis: Nation of ImmigrantsKeywords: nation of immigrants; e pluribus unum; nativism; prejudice; bigotry; racism; immigration; TrumpTranscript: VIVALDO: So, first question is what are the significant events that have gotten the country to this point in time? So this political moment?
SENATOR DICK DURBIN: We are a nation of immigrants and almost from the beginning, there has been a resistance to more people coming. In times of our history, we've needed more workers. At times in our history, some immigrants to this country were popular, some were not. But generally speaking, there's been a voice in American politics from the beginning that has resisted more immigration. We're there today, and with President Trump, it became a big issue in his last campaign.
VIVALDO: And in respect—so there's 800,000 DACA recipients that are now at risk of deportation because of the cancellation of the program, and then we also saw under the President Obama's administration an increase in deportations. So what is the strategy now to protect this population?
DURBIN: The immediate strategy is to pass legislation that gives them statutory protection. So the 780 or 800,000 who had applied and received DACA protection from deportation and a legal right to work would have that protection under the law. I'm working with Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican of South Carolina. We have reintroduced the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act basically says, if you are a DREAMer as we've defined it and you have passed a criminal background check— you have no significant crime in your background—you're finishing school, working, or joining the military, you can become a citizen of the United States.
VIVALDO: And is anything going to specifically happen after March 5th, when we are going to start seeing a number of DACA recipients work permits be ending?
DURBIN: October 5th is a deadline that has been imposed by the Trump Administration on current DACA recipients. The DACA program said if you were approved it was for two years. You can renew it. So in the next six months after the president announced DACA was going away, he said if you're in that six-month period for renewal you have to do your renewal by October the 5th. It was literally a month or a few weeks for people to respond. I thought that was too short a period and could create hardship. You know, it's a filing fee of five or six hundred dollars. Everybody doesn't have that. So we asked for some leniency, some mercy. The administration said no. We're going to continue to push for it. If they miss the renewal, then they'll technically be out of DACA status after October 5th.
VIVALDO: And that's the short-term strategy, right, to pass some kind of legislation to protect immediately these 800,000 DACA recipients. But
- Synopsis: Protecting DREAMers and DACAKeywords: DREAM Act; DREAMers; dreamers; undocumented; Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; DACA; DACAmented; undocumented; path to citizenship; protection from deportationsTranscript: VIVALDO: Is there any possibility right now to pass a comprehensive immigration reform?
DURBIN: No. And I support comprehensive immigration reform. With a Republican President—the only exception he has made on immigration has been DACA and DREAMers. It's the only thing he said that he would support, this President, and we have a Republican-controlled congress, a House and a Senate. In the House, for example, the Republican House even refused to take up our bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform five years ago. They are not supportive of it. So it is unrealistic to think that we can protect everyone—something I would like to do, but not likely to occur.
VIVALDO: So there is no possibility for a program like the 1986 Amnesty Bill to happen in today's current political climate.
DURBIN: I really doubt it. I think with Republican control of Congress, that's very difficult.
- Synopsis: Prospects for comprehensive immigration reformKeywords: comprehensive immigration reform; CIR; undocumented; Republicans; Trump; immigration system; amnesty; path to citizenship; Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986; ; protection from deportationsTranscript: VIVALDO: What do you think about the current criticism of the DREAMer narrative by undocumented immigrants themselves?
DURBIN: Well, I can tell you I understand it, because what we've done is tell their story. We've talked about their parents bringing them to the United States and then the parents of fell out of legal status. For example, they came here on a visitor's visa, didn't renew it as they were supposed to, and at that point, technically the family was undocumented. So, the question was, "If the parents didn't file the proper documents, should you hold that against the children?" And many of the DREAMers have said to me, "Senator, we don't want our parents criticized. They did the right thing. They were trying to help us." I understand that completely. From a moral point of view, these DREAMers are a hundred percent right. If this were my child, and they said to me, "Okay, if you file this piece of paper, then your child is not going to be safe, or your child's not going to have a future," I wouldn't follow the paper. I'd run the risk and these parents did. Technically, what I would do, what I would suggest that I would do, would not be legal, but it's certainly understandable. Any good parent would feel that impulse, feel that that urgent to do it. What we're—what I'm saying is this: I want to make sure the young people, the DREAMers, get their chance to become citizens. And then I want them to join me as citizens in the fight to help many others, including their parents, become part of comprehensive immigration reform.
VIVALDO: And talking about the DREAMer narrative, does the DREAMer narrative itself foreclose any possibility of comprehensive immigration reform happening in the future? Does it, does the rhetoric or that narrative limit how far politicians will go to protect this population?
DURBIN: No, I think what you're going to find is this is an obvious first step. This is a very clear case. There's a reason why 86 percent, 86 percent of the American people support the DREAM Act because they get it they understand it these young people deserve a chance to be part of America's future and to be citizens The next step, I would argue, the next step is we want to keep families together. If the father and all the children are citizens, let's give that mother a chance to become a citizen as well. Let's keep families unified and strong. That's the strength of our future.
VIVALDO: And when I heard the possibility of DREAM Act being reintroduced, I was very excited that happened over the summer and I looked forward to the press conference. However, I couldn't help to notice but that the rhetoric used by Lindsey Graham, Senator Graham, and yourself was the same rhetoric I heard in 2010 and 2011. Potential beneficiaries were called "kids who came to this country through no fault of their own" and you heard, kind of like, the "bad hombres" comment and, you know, you heard the "DREAMers" comment. Do—you've already mentioned now that 86 percent of the American population supports this, but do you think that rhetoric and even politicians have moved on this issue? Do you think that rhetoric, coming back to the rhetoric? I guess does that leave, like, does that limit our political imagination or our ability to think beyond this population?
DURBIN: There are some who believe it should be all or nothing. There are some who argue that if we can't save everyone who is undocumented in this country, then we should do nothing. I don't agree with that in any way whatsoever. I can understand the young people who are DREAMers who feel like they shouldn't be singled out and treated like heroes and given first chance at citizenship. They say, you know, My parents are good people too. They deserve the same chance." I don't disagree with that in any way whatsoever. But, I will tell you, if you sit down with most of the parents in the quiet of a room, they would say, "Save my kids first. Okay, do what you can to help me, but take care of my kids first." I saw that when we signed that, when we had people signing up for DACA. We had this at Navy Pier here in Chicago. Parents who are undocumented were standing in line at midnight before the ten o'clock opening of the hall there to take applications so that their kids would have a chance for legal status. I'm not giving up on the parents and I'm not giving up on anyone else, but for goodness sakes, if we got a chance to save eight hundred thousand young people from deportation and give them a chance to have a future, we have to seize this.
- Synopsis: Parents of undocumented youth and the DREAMer narrativeKeywords: DREAMers; dreamers; undocumented; Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; Deferred Action for Parents of Americans; DAPA; comprehensive immigration reform; CIR; Republicans; Trump; immigration system; amnesty; path to citizenship; protection from deportationsTranscript: VIVALDO: And what was your initial reaction to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi's press conference being shut down by undocumented youth earlier this past week?
DURBIN: That was a sad thing. It was unnecessary and unfortunate and those who oppose any immigration reforms seized on it to say we are not going to find anybody happy until everybody is legalized in this country. She had that press conference to allow a dozen DREAMers to get up and tell their stories in San Francisco, exactly what I would do in Chicago, and then, came a group that busted up a press conference and chanted, basically, all or nothing: if we can't have 11 million, we don't want to take care of the DREAMers. That doesn't help us. And, it turns out, some of them came from my side of the political spectrum, but the YouTube video of that that went viral was being used by those who hate immigration. So people have to be careful and thoughtful in the tactics that they use. Do they have a right to speak in America? Of course they do. In the Constitution. But they also should use good judgment in terms of when they speak and what they say.
VIVALDO: Yeah, I think the point that the youth there where they were advocating specifically for a DREAM Act. However, a DREAM Act that didn't have any enforcement attachment to it.
DURBIN: Well, then, I wish they would follow the debate carefully because what we've said is if we're going to talk about border security, there are three things we will not include as Democrats. One is a wall; two is the notion that we would have interior enforcement, more ICE agents; and three, the issue of sanctuary cities. I mean, we've said that from the beginning and that's my position. That's where we stand.
- Synopsis: Reaction to protest by undocumented youth against Nancy PelosiKeywords: DREAMers; dreamers; undocumented; Trump; immigration system; amnesty; path to citizenship; protection from deportations; protests; activism; advocacy; border protection; interior enforcement; border wall; border fencing; border fence; ICE agents; Immigration and Customs Enforcement; sanctuary cities; sanctuary city; Nancy PelosiTranscript: VIVALDO: And immigration has been a polarizing issue in this country and has continued to be. There has been efforts from both parties throughout the years to pass some kind of immigration legislation. When you think about Bush, back when he was president, President Obama, too. There have been moments how...of course, where Republicans have derailed or blocked new bills. Have there been any instances where Democrats have derailed immigrant legislation?
DURBIN: Well, not every Democrat has voted for every immigration bill. Some of them, going back in the last eight or ten years, have been controversial in the Democratic side, but when it came to comprehensive immigration reform, I think almost all the Democrats voted for it. I'd have to double-check but I think so. We may have lost two or three, no more on that. So Democrats have overwhelmingly supported comprehensive immigration reform. Republicans, in that case, I think we might have had a dozen Republican votes to help us pass the bill. So they were helpful, but only small minority of Republicans voted with us.
- Synopsis: Past failures to pass comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM ActKeywords: comprehensive immigration reform; CIR; undocumented; Republicans; Democrats; immigration system; amnesty; path to citizenship; DREAM Act; Gutierrez; MenendezTranscript: VIVALDO: And, I guess just to draw, just to bring the focus back to the DREAM Act so why was, why did the DREAM Act fail in 2010? That was seen as the time where the legislation was, was so close to passing like what were the factors that led to the DREAM Act failing in the House?
DURBIN: You know, it's really hard to say. At that time, the political positions were hardening on this and the Republicans were opposing it. It passed in the House Representatives, if I'm not mistaken. It failed in the Senate. Over 16 years, I've had times when I passed it in the Senate, for example with comprehensive immigration reform, and it failed in the House—never called in the House. So, we've never quite been able to get the stars to line up for both the House and the Senate. I think we have a chance this time.
VIVALDO: And just bring it back to the DREAM Act in 2010, there was sentiment among the youth, undocumented youth, that were pushing on behalf of the DREAM Act . Sit-ins were occurring. And, for example, in Congressman Gutierrez's office, they were advocating for the DREAM Act, but Gutierrez was trying to advocate for CIR. So is that the divide you're talking about? Where it's like it's all or nothing. It appears on both sides. So...
DURBIN: Well, in a way, yes. I, for example, I can remember when Senator Menendez, friend of mine from New Jersey, said, "We don't want to just pass the DREAM Act. We want comprehensive immigration reform." And so when the time came and he was part of the gang of eight, we included it in a comprehensive bill. I supported that and will continue to support it. But there comes a moment, and this is one of them, where if we don't do something, 780,000 DACA-protected young people are going to be in danger of being deported or unable to work. So, saying we're going to wait until we get a Democratic Congress; wait until we get a Democratic president. What will happen to these people in the meantime?
- Synopsis: Prospects for passing the DREAM Act at the time of the interviewKeywords: DREAMers; dreamers; undocumented; DREAM Act; legislation; Trump; immigration system; amnesty; path to citizenship; protection from deportationsTranscript: VIVALDO: And so, how can this be avoided in the future? The derailment of this legislation?
DURBIN: You cannot guarantee that. The way that our system of government works, you cannot guarantee the outcome of the vote. But, I think, based on years of experience, that we're in a better shape now to get the necessary votes and pass it. I never believed I'd be saying this, but it appears that now, under this President, Trump. We have a better chance of passing some form of the DREAM Act. Now, we have a lot of negotiation left, and I don't know how it's going to end, but he is at least open to signing the DREAM Act and I never thought that would happen after his campaign rhetoric.
- Synopsis: Stories from the undocumented—the most effective form of advocacyKeywords: DREAMers; dreamers; undocumented; Trump; immigration system; amnesty; path to citizenship; protection from deportations; protests; activism; advocacy; coming out of the shadows; telling your story; telling storiesTranscript: VIVALDO: And, I guess bringing it back to those who are directly impacted, so what can these undocumented youth who could potentially benefit from the DREAM Act, what can they do in order to help this legislation pass?
DURBIN: Well, they can tell their stories. And many of them have been very courageous in letting me tell their stories on the floor of the Senate. I bet I've done it over a hundred times with big color photographs and I describe what happened to them. Jesus Contreras, a paramedic DACA recipient, Lone Star College in Houston, Texas, comes out during the hurricane Harvey and worked six straight days saving lives in his community. Wants to stay there as a paramedic. If DACA goes down, he can no longer be a paramedic. I told his story over and over again, but that's what they can do, and they can reach out to leaders in the community. Business leaders. Labor leaders. Faith leaders. And ask them for a chance to meet with their people and to introduce themselves and tell them what's, what this is all about. It isn't just about the DREAMers. It is about immigration. This happens to be the group that we're focused on at this moment, but when they tell their story, they are opening the door for other stories, other lives to be explained. That's where I think the strength of immigration reform will be.
- Synopsis: Deportation during the Obama administrationKeywords: DREAMers; dreamers; undocumented; Barack Obama administration; immigration system; protection from deportations; protests; activism; advocacy; coming out of the shadows; telling your story; telling stories; Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; DACATranscript: VIVALDO: And, although former president Obama created DACA, he also has been criticized because he has kind of perfected this deportation machine and deported more people than any other president before him. So, how can we prevent Trump from doing the same?
DURBIN: I don't know that we can prevent him. He certainly has the same resources, if not more, if he wants to use them for deportation. As much as I respected and supported President Obama, he and I had differences. It was on this issue. Occasionally, his agents, his ICE agents were departing DREAMers and I told that to the president. He said, "It's not true. That's not happening. I've just been briefed by the DHS." I said, "I'll tell you what. I'll give you their names." And I gave him a memo with a list of names of DREAMers who have been deported. He checked into it and found out it was true. And I think it helped him to reach a conclusion that he needed an executive order like DACA to protect them.
- Synopsis: Prospect that the Trump administration will use information submitted by DACA recipients to deport themKeywords: DREAMers; dreamers; undocumented; Trump; immigration system; protection from deportations; Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; DACATranscript: VIVALDO: And what about Trump's Administration having access now to perhaps all of this information the DACA recipients have submitted to the Department Homeland Security. What is his...do you think that possibly he would access that database and assist him with the deportation of people?
DURBIN: I honestly don't know, but it's genuine concern. These young people step forward and told our government things about themselves, which their parents had warned them throughout their lives, never to say publicly, let alone to a government official. They trusted this government that asked them to come forward to sign up for DACA. They give a lot of information that could be incriminating against them or their families. I don't think that this information should ever be used against them. When General Kelly was being considered for the head of the Department of Homeland Security, I asked him a question specifically. I said, "Do you support the DREAM Act?" And he said, "Yes, but you've got to make it the law. You know, I don't have it until you make it the law." And then I said, "Secondly, should this information be used against them?" And he said, "If it was represented to these young people that it would not be used, it should not be used." I believe that was a representation. We wouldn't use it against them. But I'm very concerned that someone else might see it differently and it might hurt these families.
VIVALDO: Those are all the questions I have for you.
DURBIN: How'd we do?
VIVALDO: If there's anything...
DURBIN: 20 minutes, exactly. Laura, you're perfect. Anything else? Any big question that you missed or one last question you want to ask?
- Synopsis: Commitment to fight on behalf of the undocumentedKeywords: DREAMers; dreamers; undocumented; immigration system; protection from deportations; activism; advocacy; coming out of the shadows; telling your story; telling storiesTranscript: VIVALDO: Anything you would want to add? Any final thoughts?
DURBIN: Well, let me just say that this has been 16 years, and I'm sorry that it didn't happen a long time ago. I sure tried everything I could think of every time I can think of it to do this. But I feel special obligation to these DREAMers and to their families and I'm going to want to continue this battle. When it's all said and done, I want to give them a chance. They've never let me down. Their stories and their lives have given me hope, time and again and I believe in them and when we were set back, say in 2010, I said to them. "Don't give up on me because I'm not giving up on you."
VIVALDO: All right. Thank you, Senator Durbin, for your time.
DURBIN: Thank you.