Transcript: Sen. Dick Durbin’s remarks on the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform proposal

Transcribed and edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) statement on the Gang of Eight’s bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform proposal at a press conference on Jan. 28, 2013: 

…We’ve been down this road before but I feel very good about our chances this time…

And here we are facing the issue of immigration – nothing new in America. This nation of immigrants has been debating the issue of immigration since the first group got off the boat and wanted to know why the second group was coming. That’s been our conversation in America from the beginning.

But it really is critical to remember that those immigrants, whose DNA we carry, had something special in their makeup to get up and move to come to this great nation for an opportunity they couldn’t find in another place. That’s part of what we are today.

And secondly, it says quite a bit about our nation about how many people want to come here in this free country, with this opportunity for an expanding economy. They want to be here in America.

But let’s be honest about it. The third point is critically important. Our immigration system is broken. It’s been broken for a long time.

16 years ago when I was first elected to the Senate, one of the first phone call I received – and I was so honored – was from Ted Kennedy. And Ted Kennedy called this new Senator and said, “I just want to let you know I’m chairman of the immigration subcommittee. You’re on judiciary. I need you on there. We haven’t looked at a serious immigration law for 10 years; we’re going to get it done.” Well, I signed up to be part of Ted Kennedy’s team but it didn’t happen.

And time passed – another 16 years and we still have a broken immigration system with 11 million people living in limbo.

Well, this statement of values we give you today is a good solid starting point for making certain that we fix the system and that we come up with a long-term approach that is fair.

It has the basics – basics we insist on:

Strengthen border security with the best technology, using enforcement resources for the most serious security threats.

Second, require employers to verify that all their employees are legal and make certain that there’s a means of verification that is quick and accurate.

Third, illegal immigrants already in the United States will be given their chance to earn their way to a citizenship. It won’t be easy; it will take them some time and determination. But were it not for their determination, they wouldn’t be here in the first place. Among the requirements, of course, a criminal background check, make certain that they pay any fines that have been established, pay their taxes which is a critical part of this whole comprehensive approach, give them a chance to earn their citizenship, learn English and the basics about America’s history.

And basically, four, making sure that the amount of…legal immigration that is allowed in the United States is based on the state of our economy. We are going to enshrine in here the principle that when it comes to job openings, Americans get the first grab at it, Americans get the first opportunity, and that’s the way it should be. We’re going to make certain that beyond that though there are opportunities for others and there are a variety of different ways to approach it.

Let me close by just addressing one issue near and dear that I was happy to have both Chuck and John refer to. It’s been 12 years – 12 years – since I introduced the DREAM Act.

I never gave up because when you meet these young people you just can’t give up.

But there were some disappointing times – sad times. A lot of tears shed when we were unable to pass the DREAM Act in the past. The last time around, I met these young people after the vote failed on the Senate floor and I said to them “I’m never giving up on you. Now don’t give up on us.” That’s what this is about.

The DREAM Act is going to be an integral part of comprehensive immigration reform. The DREAM Act will give to these young people the chance that they have been dreaming of, begging for, pleading for the opportunity.

Now, these young people showed an extraordinary amount of courage. They have stepped up and self-identified to the world who they are. And when we finally met them – when we came to know who they were – this issue started moving to a place where in the last presidential campaign both candidates were asked their position on the DREAM Act. That says a lot about where this issue has brought us. And I think it has been an integral part of bringing us to this moment in time. I look forward to happy news for these Dreamers and fulfilling the dreams of so many families looking forward to a better day in America.


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