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During Congressional Recess, Constituents Demand Answers on Immigration

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A Recap of Democratic and Republican Responses to the Immigration Resistance

April’s Congressional Recess is over, and this week Congress returns to DC having heard from (and in some cases, doing battle with) their constituents over a number of issues.

One of these issues was immigration reform, which was a topic brought up in almost every town hall we heard about. Around the country, in Democratic as well as Republican districts, voters demanded to hear what their members of Congress are doing about immigration reform – and how they’re standing up to Trump’s agenda.

Constituents are fired up and mobilized about the issue, while Democrats are leaning in, and Republicans are pretending to be more pro-immigrant than their party really is — both in response to pressure from their voters.

Republicans spouting empty claims about supporting immigration reform

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve heard multiple Republicans claiming that they support immigration reform – even though their party did nothing to advance legislation when there was a real chance of passage under the previous Administration, even though the GOP is doing nothing for the issue now, and even though Donald Trump is conducting mass deportations – and no Republicans in Congress are standing up to  him.

“If I could be part of a solution for immigration I would feel comfortable coming back,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA).

“Our immigration system is broken,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS). “We spend a lot of time trying to get people through the process, and it’s a bureaucracy that doesn’t work.

“For adults that have broken our immigration laws but haven’t broken our other laws, let them come out of the shadows”, said Mike Coffman (R-CO).

Those are nice words, but they don’t reflect the complete lack of action from Republicans when it comes to protecting immigrants and keeping families together. A Garden City Telegram op-ed written after Sen. Moran’s town hall there called him out for exactly that:

While the senator talked a good game, actions speak louder than words.

When reasonable bipartisan legislation emerged in recent years, Moran fell in line with tea-party obstructionists determined to block any progress on then-President Obama’s watch.

Even as communities in Kansas faced severe labor shortages — and particularly in rural, agriculture-driven locales that depend on all immigrant contributions — Moran put politics above problem-solving, to the detriment of his home state…

And with Trump in the White House, Republicans who control Congress have no more excuses. They’d best lead the way in delivering realistic immigration reform.

More from Republican town halls: contractors in Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC)’s district pleaded with him to pass immigration reform in order to alleviate a severe labor shortage in the area. Sanford merely told them that was unlikely, due to Republicans’ fear that legalized immigrants would become Democrats.

Iowa’s Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said that she was “not in favor necessarily of deporting [immigrants] unless they’re felons or doing something really bad in our communities.” She might want to look at recent raids in Iowa and the Midwest, where at least 40% of 86 immigrants who were detained had no criminal records whatsoever.

Democrats are leaning into immigration reform

In Democratic town halls, members of Congress echoed constituents’ concerns about immigration, spoke about how families should not be separated, criticized Trump’s raids, and spoke against the border wall.

In California’s Lake County, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) held a town hall with Sheriff Brian Martin and other elected officials, where topics included the relationship between California cities and its immigrant communities, pressure to make California jurisdictions hold immigrants for federal agents, and how the Trump Administration might respond to cities seen as being too immigrant-friendly.   

“My priorities are not to enforce federal immigration law. My priorities are to make sure our communities are safe, and that our communities are safe for everybody,” said Sheriff Martin.

Thompson noted that “this is going to be a bit of a struggle” when it comes to federal immigration agents and local law enforcement. He also mentioned a meeting with DHS Secretary John Kelly – and Thompson noted he had “never seen a cabinet secretary from either party be as rude and dismissive to members of Congress as Kelly.”

Thompson at the meeting had asked Kelly to stop the practice of ICE agents wearing jackets and vests that say “Police” on them – as it creates mistrust between immigrants and the police – but Kelly said he would not do anything about the issue.

“We have a real uphill battle in trying to make sure that this administration recognizes that they have a responsibility to local communities across our country. This is where the rubber hits the road,” Thompson said.

Constituents are mobilized and fired up

Voters and advocates around the country showed a willingness to engage on immigration this Congressional recess – Arizonans chanted “no stupid wall” at Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), while in Fauquier County, Virginia, some 150 residents told their sheriff off for wanting to support detainer requests from ICE.

In Colorado, advocates interrupted a private meeting with Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) by bringing in a mariachi band to play a love song and demand that Gardner hold a public forum.

“It was a gift,” said Hilda Nucete a program director of Conservation Colorado, one of three groups behind the interruption. She said the band played the Spanish song “Where Are You, My Heart?” which is about “when the guy really messes up and you’re trying to get back the girl, so we’re trying to get (Gardner) to fall in love with us again.”

And in Oregon, constituents refused to let Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) get away with easy answers on immigration. Walden said in his town hall that all Americans are immigrants and that he supports comprehensive immigration reform. But attendees continued to challenge him:

“We are not criminals,” Graciela Gomez said, rebuking Immigrations Customs Enforcement deportation policies affecting Latino populations. “What are you doing for the immigrant peoples?”

Walden called for general legislative fixes…Pressed on ICE, he said that enforcing laws against violent crimes should be the agency’s top priority and “I don’t control ICE.”

Someone took Walden to task for supporting Trump’s plan to build a wall on the Mexican border.

Walden gave a multi-tiered answer. He referred back to the 2006 Secure Fence Act that authorized building roughly 700 miles of wall and fencing. He advocated for a mix of security measures, such as a wall in some places, and aerial and boat patrols in others.

On Trump, Gwen Thomas asked, “Please explain to us and especially the remaining students in the audience why you remain silent as Trump makes dehumanizing and threatening remarks about immigrants and women?”

Walden said that he had spoken out against Trump – even though he supported him.