Heinrich Fights For NM Dreamers, Rejects Trump's Wasteful Border Wall

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the Senate debates a long-overdue, bipartisan solution for Dreamers, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) spoke on the Senate floor to advocate on behalf of New Mexico Dreamers and reject President Trump’s “offensive and wasteful” border wall. 

During his remarks, Senator Heinrich highlighted the story of Ivonne Orozco-Acosta, 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year and one of the estimated 7,000 Dreamers that live in the state. 

Heinrich Fights For NM Dreamers, Rejects Trump's Wasteful Border Wall

Below are Senator Heinrich's remarks as prepared for delivery:

As the Senate takes to the floor to debate a long-overdue, bipartisan solution for Dreamers, young immigrants who came to our country as children, I would like to tell you a story about one Dreamer in my home state of New Mexico to illustrate just what is at stake here.

Immigrants have long helped write the economic, social, and cultural story of my home state of New Mexico and the entire nation. We are a nation of immigrants.

Over the last centuries, our nation’s foundation and the enduring American spirit were built by the hard work and dreams of so many striving young immigrants.

When President Trump made the outrageous decision last fall to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—or DACA—program, he threw hundreds of thousands of Dreamers deep into fear and uncertainty.

Two weeks ago, I was proud to welcome Ivonne Orozco-Acosta, one of the estimated 7,000 Dreamers from New Mexico, as my guest at the State of the Union Address. Ivonne’s family immigrated to the United States when she was 12 years old.

She learned English through middle school and graduated high school in Estancia, New Mexico.

It was during these challenging years of learning that Ivonne was encouraged by her teachers to grow.

Ivonne knows the power that educators hold to create positive change in students’ perspectives of themselves.

Ivonne attended the University of New Mexico where she earned her BA in Secondary Education with a concentration in Spanish.

It is estimated that somewhere between 500 and 1,000 students at the University of New Mexico right now are Dreamers like Ivonne. These are some of our brightest students and future leaders.

Since she graduated from UNM four years ago, Ivonne has been teaching Spanish at the Public Academy for Performing Arts, a charter school in Albuquerque.

Ivonne told me about what DACA has meant for her.

DACA allowed her to get a work permit to follow her passion for education.

It made it possible for her to buy house and buy her first car.

It has also given her an opportunity to impact the lives of her students each day and contribute to our state’s economy as a teacher and as a taxpayer.

DACA gave Ivonne, in her words, “a sliver of hope” that she will finally be able to have a permanent place in the only country she calls home.

Because of her excellent teaching in the classroom and her incredible passion for her students, Ivonne was just selected as the 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year by the New Mexico Public Education Department.

That’s right, Ivonne has been recognized as the teacher of the year for our entire state. Ivonne's commitment to education and giving back to her community is truly inspiring and reminds us just how much is at stake for New Mexico in this debate. 

Our state already struggles to keep schools filled with teachers and has one of the highest teacher turnover rates in the nation.

Dreamers across the country, like Ivonne, are stepping up to serve our communities and teach our students.

Nearly 9,000 of the Dreamers who received temporary legal status and work permits through the DACA program are teachers like Ivonne.

Many more are firefighters, police officers, scientists, doctors, and members of our military. These inspiring young people are Americans in every sense of the word except on paper.

And they want nothing more than to be productive members of their communities.

But until Congress passes the Dream Act, these young people like Ivonne will continue to worry about whether they will be able to stay in school, keep working and contributing to our economy, or remain in their homes and neighborhoods. 

So I have to ask, why would we even consider threatening to deport the Teacher of the Year from my state? I simply cannot accept that as living up to all that our nation stands for.

The Santa Fe New Mexican covered Ivonne’s visit to Washington.

The New Mexican’s editorial board said: “It is no exaggeration to state that as the immigration debate goes, so does her future.”

They went on to call the immigration debate we are engaging in here in Congress as a fight “for the soul of this country, founded and strengthened by immigrants throughout our history.”

I for one hope that we can learn from the best and most challenging parts of our nation’s history of immigration and understand that Dreamers like Ivonne are part of the immigration story that has always made our nation great.

Deporting these young people who grew up in America and want to contribute to their nation is not what the America that I know and love would do.

Dreamers deserve commonsense, compassionate, and responsible policy.

Two weeks ago, while President Trump was taking cheap shots at immigrants during his State of the Union address and insinuating that all immigrants and asylum seekers pose an existential danger to our children and families, I couldn’t help but think of the impact of his words on Ivonne. 

There are hundreds of thousands of Dreamers like Ivonne.

They are truly bright spots and rising stars in our communities.

The time has come for us to stop playing politics with their lives.

Let’s stop stirring up fear and division when we should be working to find a real path forward.

This week, I believe we have a path forward here in this debate on the Senate floor.

We must pass a bipartisan immigration bill that includes the Dream Act in the Senate and in the House.

I will do everything I can to pass a solution for Dreamers, create rational border security policies, and make the investments that our border region actually needs.

And I will stand with New Mexicans against President Trump’s fear-based and un-American views on immigration and his offensive and wasteful border wall that have no place in this debate.

I hope that each of us in this body recognizes our moral responsibility and our obligation to live up to our nation’s ideals and values.

We must act with a sense of urgency to find a way forward for Dreamers.

Every day that passes without us passing the Dream Act is another day of desperation and limbo for young people like Ivonne who only know America as home.

Now is the time to give these young Americans a permanent place and an earned path to citizenship in our nation.

I will do everything I can, every step of the way to make that happen.