Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) (SFS ’66, LAW ’69) spoke about immigration reform in Gaston Hall Tuesday evening, a call that was briefly interrupted by immigration activists who criticized the senator’s approach to the issue.
Two years ago, Durbin spoke at Georgetown about the necessity of immigration reform. In Tuesday’s speech, which was in honor of the Institute for the Study of International Migration’s 15th anniversary, he emphasized that despite the comprehensive immigration reform bill he and the other Gang of Eight Senate members helped pass in June, there is more to be done.
“We’re closer than we’ve ever been,” Durbin said. “It’ll take a major effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform, but we have a chance.”
Durbin emphasized that any immigration bill must include the DREAM Act provision, which would allow the children of illegal immigrants to attain temporary and ultimately permanent residency in the United States, provided they graduate high school.
At the end of Durbin’s remarks, three activists in the back of the auditorium holding cardboard signs stood up and shouted at Durbin to explain his policy on a group of 30 “dreamers” of Mexican descent who grew up in America, returned to Mexico and attempted to re-enter the country Sept. 30 based on the premise that they faced discrimination in Mexico. They are being held at a detention center in El Paso, Texas.
“They are now going to have to go through the whole process,” Durbin answered, returning to the microphone. “There are standards that they’ll have to live by. They are trying a different approach to get into the system. I can’t change that fact. They have chosen the route they want to follow, and it requires adjudication as to whether or not they are facing persecution. That is what they have chosen, and I can’t change that at all.”
Mohammad Abdollahi, an immigration reform activist and co-founder of the website DreamActivist, led the outburst from the back of the room. Abdollahi moved to America from Iran at the age of two and has gained publicity due to his tactics, including a sit-in staged at the offices of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2010.
After Durbin’s speech, Abdollahi expressed his dissatisfaction with Durbin’s handling of the “30 dreamers” situation.
“It’s easy to talk about immigrants, it’s easy to give all these speeches and stories, but actions are way more important,” Abdollahi said, mentioning that he did not intend to interrupt Durbin, but was left with few other options since only Georgetown students were permitted to ask questions after the lecture. “The senator can make a phone call tomorrow and the dreamers could get discretion and get released. That’s all it takes, if he really supports them.”
Throughout the evening, Durbin shared several immigrants’ stories. One of these was that of Juan Gomez (MSB ’11), who came to the United States from Colombia at the age of two and graduated from Georgetown in 2011 after his family was deported, but was forced to leave the country when his work permit expired.
“That is the kind of loss that you suffer, that is the kind of brain drain you suffer, until you pass the DREAM Act and fix this broken immigration system,” Durbin said.
While the immigration bill passed 68-32 in the Senate, Durbin expects Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) to use an informal power called the Hastert Rule to prevent a vote on anything lacking broad Republican support.
“That same rule, used by Speaker Boehner, shut down our government for 16 days,” Durbin said, a reality that might force the bill’s supporters to break it into smaller components for voting. “I don’t like that approach, but it may be the only approach.”
Chris Wager (SFS ’17) was impressed by Durbin’s commitment to immigration reform.
“His stories were particularly moving, especially about the different ‘dreamers,’” Wager said. “His policies appear that they will be impactful in a very positive way, and it was really a privilege being able to hear him speak.”