U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) took to the Senate floor this evening to speak in support of the Dream Act and the thousands of Dreamers who currently live in Florida.
Nelson – a supporter of legislation known as the Dream Act, which would allow Dreamers to remain in the U.S. without fear of deportation – told the story of Elisha Dawkins, a Jacksonville-area veteran who was raised believing he was a U.S. citizen, but later found out he was actually brought into the U.S. illegally as a small child.
“He was a baby that was brought from the Bahamas at age six months. He grew up in America. He grew up in Jacksonville, in my state. Never knew anything about his roots. Only knew that he was an American. Served two tours in Iraq. Came back, joined the Navy Reserves, had a top secret clearance, was sent to the very sensitive post of Guantanamo where he was given the job as a photographer,” Nelson said. “When it came to be learned that he had come to America as an infant … he was thrown in jail.”
Dawkins made headlines in 2011 when he was jailed for a single count of submitting false information on a passport application. As a result, he was suddenly facing not only incarceration, but also the possibility of deportation from the only country he had ever known.
Immediately upon hearing of Dawkins’ situation, Nelson stepped in to help. Nelson pressed the federal government for fairness in the case, and Dawkins was subsequently released and allowed to remain in the U.S. while he applied for citizenship, which he received in 2014.
Nelson also told the story of Cristina Velasquez, a Miami-Dade Community College graduate and current Georgetown University student who was recently accepted into the Teach for America program.
“Cristina came to America at age six from Venezuela,” Nelson said. “If we failed to pass the Dream Act, are we saying we are going to send Cristina back to the Maduro dictatorship in Venezuela? A dictatorship that can’t even provide the basic staples to its citizens.”
“This just shouldn’t happen, Nelson said. “And that’s why it’s critical that we pass the Dream Act as soon as possible.”
Below is a rush transcript of Nelson’s speech followed by a background article on Dawkins.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
December 13, 2017
Sen. Nelson: Mr. President, Senator Durbin has been leading a group of us talking about DACA or the Dreamers. I want to tell the senate two stories.
I want to tell you about Elisha Dawkins. He was a baby that was brought from the Bahamas at age 6 months. He grew up in America. He grew up in Jacksonville, in my state. Never knew anything about his roots. Only knew that he was an American. Served two tours in Iraq. Came back, joined the Navy Reserves, had a top secret clearance, was sent to the very sensitive post of Guantanamo where he was given the job as a photographer. Obviously, a very sensitive position. And through an application for a passport, in the checking on the background of a passport, it came to be learned that he had come to America as an infant, and for what reason, for the life of me it has not been explained, but he was arrested and thrown in jail by a U.S. attorney.
Once this case came to the light of day and some of us started speaking out about it, a federal district judge took it in her hands to lecture the U.S. attorney. And only because of that was Elisha Dawkins released from jail, and as a result then we started getting into it, and Elisha Dawkins was finally given his citizenship, and he is now serving in his native Jacksonville, and he is a nurse.
Now, here’s a child that had served two tours in Iraq and was in a top-secret clearance in service to the Navy Reserves in Guantanamo.
This just shouldn’t happen. Individuals in good faith have gone about carrying on, some even knowing as Elisha certainly didn’t know of his undocumented these individuals in good faith have divulged personal information to the Department of Homeland Security that could eventually deport them. And that’s why it’s critical that we pass the Dream Act as soon as possible.
I’ve heard from DACA recipients from all around the country but especially I’ve heard from a lot of them of the 30,000 that are in the state of Florida. I’ve heard from DACA recipients that are valedictorians, that are medical students, even priests. Many are the primary bread winners for their families.
Senator Durbin has already highlighted some of my constituents over the years, including Cristina Velasquez, a graduate of Miami Dade Community College who will soon graduate from Georgetown University and fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher by joining Teach for America.
Cristina came to America at age six from Venezuela, a country whose problems you and I have — Senator Durbin and I, but also the presiding senator today have consistently been concerned about the plight of Venezuela.
And so if we failed to pass the Dream Act, are we saying we are going to send Cristina back to the Maduro dictatorship in Venezuela, a dictatorship that can’t even provide the basic staples to its citizens? Are we going to allow this young lady who only grew up thinking she was an American, now graduating from Georgetown and allow her to channel her skills and her passion to ward bettering our communities in need as a teacher?
It doesn’t make any sense to send these kids, to deport them.
The contributions that Dreamers have made are countless and Cristina and Elisha are just two examples. These Dreamers will continue to better our communities if only we would pass the legislation that Senator Durbin is sponsoring and many of us are cosponsoring.
And so rhetorically, this was going to be a time of question and answers, but Senator Durbin allowed me to kick off this session. And I see that we have many other senators to speak.
So, Mr. President, I will yield the floor.
Iraq, Guantánamo vet settles passport fraud case
By Carol Rosenberg
Published: July 12, 2011
A U.S. military veteran of the Iraq surge and Guantánamo averted a federal passport fraud trial on Tuesday by settling for probation in a deal that lets him stay in the United States for now and perhaps continue Navy service.
Under the deal, Navy Reserves Petty Officer Elisha Leo Dawkins, 26, ducked a felony conviction and will have the opportunity to settle his citizenship question separately with U.S. immigration authorities.
The U.S. government says he was born in the Bahamas. His lawyer said he grew up in Miami believing he was an American citizen, and went on to serve honorably in both the U.S. Army and Navy.
As a Navy Reserves photographer, he obtained a secret-level clearance and spent seven months chronicling the lives of captives at Guantánamo. He came home in April, to arrest and 10 weeks detention in four federal lockups.
Still, he declared himself undeterred by the experience and eager to return to active duty.
“If America goes to World War III, I’ll be in the front line. This is a great country,” Dawkins said outside the court. He had traded a detainee’s tan prison uniform for a blue suit and tie.
Dawkins trial was slated to begin with jury selection on a single count of making a false statement on a 2006 U.S. passport application. He did not report that he had applied for one in 2005, and was turned down.
Conviction on the charge can carry a 10-year prison sentence. Dawkins had on July 1 spurned the rare federal offer of “pretrial diversion” — a probation program that lets him avoid trial and the risk of a felony conviction.
In a surprise, his court-appointed lawyer Clark Mervis notified Judge Cecilia Altonaga that they had accepted the offer late Monday. Details were still secret Tuesday but his attorney said it did not address the issue of Dawkins’ citizenship. Separately, the U.S. immigration agency has agreed not to detain him on a 1992 removal order.
Experts have said such pre-trial probation packages typically involve rehabilitation, pledges to stay out of trouble and to undertake community service.
Altonaga agreed to abort the trial and send him to the program, provided Dawkins pays $1,600 in jury fees — $40 to each citizen in a pool of 40 jury candidates assembled Tuesday morning, plus their parking and transportation fees.
The debt became part of his probationary agreement.
In court, prosecutor Michael O’Leary said the sailor had a change of heart after hearing the case laid out in trial preparation on Monday. Federal prosecutors had made the offer, said O’Leary, because “his military service did mitigate” any alleged crime.
Outside court, the sailor’s lawyer told him not to say whether he still believed he was a U.S. citizen.
Dawkins declared that sorting that question out was “the next project here” — but said his experience persuaded him of the need to pass The Dream Act. It lets undocumented foreign children who grew up here attain American citizenship.
The case of the man who says he grew up believing he was American, that’s why he enlisted, energized pockets of Miami and the military.
Pastor Kenneth Duke of Miami’s New Jerusalem Primitive Baptist Church came to court Tuesday, as did a former Navy pilot who has championed his friend’s cause, “Flash” Gordon Schwartz of Jacksonville, where Dawkins now lives.
Also there was an envoy from the office of Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Bahamian-American first-term Congresswoman who represents the district where Dawkins grew up. Florida
Sen. Bill Nelson, also a Democrat, mentioned Dawkins story in a floor speech on June 29 as proof of the need to adopt The Dream Act.
The sailor’s mother was deported when Dawkins was 8. He grew up in Miami being shuttled between the homes of relatives who considered him a financial burden, the congresswoman said Tuesday.
Knowing he found the strength to overcome those “dark days,” she said, gave her the faith to believe he could survive future immigration issues.
Meantime, she said her staff has strong experience helping Haitians here and would help Dawkins sort out his status.
Plus, Wilson pledged to “preach his cause” on the House floor Wednesday, saying Dawkins exemplified the need for The Dream Act.
As written, she said, the Dream Act would immediately solve Dawkins problem.
A trial would have put the state of Florida’s birth certificate policy under a harsh spotlight.
At age 18, according to state records, Dawkins obtained a “delayed” birth certificate that showed he was born in Miami-Dade County on Oct 21, 1984. But, according to the government case: “None of the documents dated back to 1984, the year of the Defendant’s birth. None established precisely where the Defendant was born in the city of Miami. And none were evidence of citizenship.”
Both sides agree that the issue of the case centered on Dawkins’ intent when he checked a box that said “no” on a 2006 U.S. passport application question on whether he’d applied for one before.
At the time of his arrest, he said Tuesday, he was at his Jacksonville condominium listening to Kenny G and studying for his nursing boards, something he intended to resume.