“The bipartisan legislation the Senate is poised to pass today doesn’t just secure our borders or mend our broken legal immigration system. This bill paves the way for people like Astrid and her family – people who are American in all but paperwork – to become full participants in this society.
“It acknowledges the contributions of generations of immigrants – immigrants who founded this country and built it into the superpower it is today, immigrants like my father-in-law, who was born in Russia as Israel Goldfarb.
“And it recognizes that today’s immigrants came for the very same reason as generations before them – to achieve a dream we take for granted, the right to live in the land of the free.”
Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid delivered the following remark prior to the Senate vote on final passage of the comprehensive immigration reform legislation. The bill passed by a vote of 68 to 32. Astrid Silva, whose story Senator Reid shares in his remarks, watched from the gallery as the legislation was passed. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
Twenty-one years ago, Astrid Silva crossed the Rio Grande in a rubber raft wearing a ruffled dress and patent leather shoes. She was four years old. Astrid doesn’t remember Mexico, the country where she was born. But she does remember the day she left it behind.
Astrid cried because the only things she could take with her were her baptismal cross and a doll. Her mother cried because although the river was narrow the current was swift. But mother and daughter survived the crossing, ducked under a border fence and began their new lives in America.
A decade passed before Astrid realized she had come to the United States illegally, without the proper immigration paperwork. Her 8th grade class took a trip to Washington. Astrid couldn’t go. Her parents were afraid to let her travel because she was undocumented. Flying without proper U.S. identification meant running the risk of being detained or deported.
A few years later, when Astrid’s friends learned to drive, she was left behind again. Astrid wasn’t eligible for a driver’s license. And when Astrid’s classmates headed off to schools across the country, she stayed in Nevada and attended a local community college.
But Astrid accepted every challenge and setback with grace, knowing the obstacles could never outweigh the advantages of growing up in the United States of America.
Then, four years ago, Astrid’s grandmother died. Neither Astrid nor her father, who is also undocumented, was able to go to the funeral in Mexico. If she left the United States, there was no guarantee she would ever again see the only country she has ever called home.
Astrid knew it was time to raise her voice. It was time to come out of the shadows and share her story. It was time for Astrid to tell her friends, her classmates and her community that she was an undocumented immigrant.
So she spoke up. She told her story. And she gave me the first of many heartfelt letters, cards and notes. I have appreciated each and every one. They are a reminder of what is at stake in this debate – a debate that involves our neighbors, friends and relatives.
The bipartisan legislation the Senate is poised to pass today doesn’t just secure our borders or mend our broken legal immigration system. This bill paves the way for people like Astrid and her family – people who are American in all but paperwork – to become full participants in this society. It acknowledges the contributions of generations of immigrants – immigrants who founded this country and built it into the superpower it is today, immigrants like my father-in-law, who was born in Russia as Israel Goldfarb. And it recognizes that today’s immigrants came for the very same reason as generations before them – to achieve a dream we take for granted, the right to live in the land of the free.
The late Senator Ted Kennedy said it best: “From Jamestown, to the Pilgrims, to the Irish, to today’s workers, people have come to this country in search of opportunity. They have sought nothing more than a chance to work hard and bring a better life to themselves and their families. They come to our country with their hearts and minds full of hope.”
The bipartisan legislation before the United States Senate today respects and fulfills that hope.
It will help 11 million people tired of looking over their shoulders and fearing deportation get right with the law and start down the pathway to citizenship. That path will be long and hard – much like the path Astrid and her mother took two decades ago when they came to the United States. It will mean going to the back of the line, learning English and paying back taxes and fines.
This legislation is tough but also fair. And above all else, it is practical. It makes unprecedented investments in border security. It cracks down on crooked employers, who exploit and abuse immigrant workers.
This legislation will be good for America’s national security as well as its economic security. And it will reduce the deficit by $1 trillion over the next two decades.
Six years ago, the last time the Senate considered a sweeping immigration overhaul, prospects for a bipartisan solution were dim. On the day the last immigration bill fell to a procedural roadblock, Senator Kennedy urged those of us who believe deeply in this cause to keep the faith. This is what he said: “We will be back and we will prevail… America always finds a way to solve its problems, expand its frontiers, and move closer to its ideals. It is not always easy, but it is the American way.”
Senator Kennedy knew the day would come when a group of Senators divided by party but united by love of country would see this fight to the finish. That day is today. And while I am sad that Senator Kennedy isn’t here to see history made, I know he is looking down on us proudly.
He’s not alone. My wife’s father, may he rest in peace, is here today in spirit. Astrid Silva is also here today. And she’ll be looking down from the gallery when the United States Senate votes to expand this country’s frontiers and move it closer to its ideals.