Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding the importance of bipartisan immigration reform. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
When Alfredo Castaneda crossed the border from Mexico into the United States two decades ago, he didn’t climb over a fence. He didn’t swim across a river. He didn’t walk through the desert. When Alfredo crossed the border he was a little boy perched on his father’s shoulders.
The choice to leave Mexico wasn’t an easy one for Alfredo’s father. But the rumble of hunger in his belly – and his son’s belly – convinced Alfredo’s father to leave behind the world he knew for a better life in America.
Alfredo wrote me a letter recently and shared his father’s words: “I lived in a shack with one wall of my house leaning on my neighbor’s; the other three were made of… sticks and mud bricks. I wanted to give my family a better life, and so I hear the U.S. is the land of opportunity. All I want is to have a sliver of that opportunity for my family.” And so, with his wife by his side and his son on his shoulders, Alfredo’s father came to America illegally.
Alfredo was a two-year-old boy at the time. Today he is a 23-year-old man who appreciates the privileges that come with life in America. But he is also conscious of the opportunities available only to United States citizens – opportunities that aren’t available to him because of his immigration status.
When his friends applied for part-time jobs in high school, Alfredo knew he could never work legally. When he was researching a paper for class, Alfredo was denied a library card because he had no state identification. When he filled out the application for his dream school – selecting “non-citizen” on the online form – Alfredo received an error message in bold, red letters: “Non citizens cannot apply for entry in this institution.”
Alfredo’s life in Nevada bears little in common with the shack of sticks and mud he left behind. And for him, American truly is the land of opportunity his father envisioned. Yet, until recently, Alfredo could not get a social security number, a driver’s license or even a full-time job because he is an undocumented immigrant.
But that hasn’t stopped him from reaching for his dreams. This is what he wrote to me: “My parents constantly reminded me to be a good citizen and volunteer in my community whenever possible. They said that it would pay off and would help me acquire citizenship in the future. I took that to heart.”
So Alfredo worked hard in high school, volunteered at a local hospital and became politically active. He enrolled in the College of Southern Nevada. Since he can’t find steady work, it has been difficult for Alfredo to afford tuition while he helps support his family. But he believes things are about to change for the better.
Thanks to a directive issued last year by President Obama, Alfredo and 800,000 DREAMers like him won’t be deported and will be able to work and drive legally. Alfredo has already applied for several jobs, and even gotten a few interviews. He looks forward to learning to drive, going back to school, completing his Associates Degree and one day owning his own business.
But President Obama’s directive isn’t a permanent answer. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives voted last week to resume deportation of upstanding young people like Alfredo who were brought to this country through no fault of their own. And the directive isn’t a solution for Alfredo’s parents and 10 million people like them, who live in the United States without the proper paperwork.
It’s more important than ever that Congress pass a permanent fix for this nation’s broken immigration system.
Alfredo believes in us – he believes we will succeed. He believes we will find the political will to pass common-sense, bipartisan immigration reform this year. And his letter contained a reminder of what’s at stake in this debate. This is what he wrote: “It’s not just piece of legislation: that piece of paper holds our dreams, ambitions, and potential in it.”