Durbin, Again


Senator’s speech sparks both protests and questions.



Senator Durbin has come and gone, yet the ramifications of his public address remain in rather unanticipated ways. What should have been a relatively standard event with few shocking statements, instead was a picketed and at times rather tense affair.  

Senator Durbin, who came with Senator Angus King last week, spoke at the JFK forum with a strong political message. As it happens, the purpose of his address, coupled with a proclamation by President Faust, was not an appeal to bipartisanship or cooperation. Rather, it was a defence of the Dreamers – those who came to America as children – but without the standard legal channels. Of course, Harvard itself has a number of students who are Dreamers and so to say this was of immense personal importance to many of those attending would be an understatement.  

The protestors outside felt that Senator Durbin’s bill is not a “clean DREAM Act,” due to the fact that it includes funding for border security as well. Some of the attendees proclaimed that they would not accept their own stability if it meant preventing others from coming into the country – a rather gallant and brazen position to take. Harvard students have, at least in recent years, been inclined in some cases to put themselves aside for their cause, and this conflict over immigration legislation might prove the most memorable example of this thus far, once all is said and done.

This was not the only purpose for Senator Durbin being here: he also tossed a few jabs in the direction of President Trump for his handling of the affair even though he was unable to whip the somewhat irritated crowd into a frenzy with anything he said. Indeed, while fielding questions from the audience he gave many assurances to stern and passionate attendees that he was doing all that he could – though a few students grumbling on their way out did not seem convinced. One student’s question stood out from the appeals: it suggested that merit-based immigration might be beneficial. Senator Durbin was swift to dismiss the idea. This does raise some questions as to what the community as a whole feels on the issue. How many Harvard students are inclined to side with merit-based immigration, or alternatives? This is a question worth further study.  

The University has been applying pressure in favor of protections for the Dreamers, and Senator Durbin’s presence suggests this institution is a notable player in the discussions in favor of the Dreamers.  Yet, it remains to be seen how this will be resolved, and time is running out for a resolution. Various figures and groups seem to be unwilling to compromise, for one reason or another. Nevertheless, it does seem that a majority of the Harvard community, or at least an especially vocal segment, are doing everything they can. It may prove a dangerous practice to try to get in their way.


Malcolm Reid ’21 (mjreid@college.harvard.edu) looks forward to following the course of this issue.