Southeastern PA congressional candidates weigh in on immigration

 

S.E. Pa. congressional candidates offer their views on immigration

from the Delaware County Daily Times

by Lucas Rodgers

September 18, 2016

Immigration has long been a contentious issue in the United States, with varying views on how legal immigration should be handled, how illegal immigration could be reduced, and whether undocumented immigrants should be allowed to remain in the country or be deported. The debate on immigration has become even more intense this election season, as the two major parties’ presidential nominees, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, have outlined two starkly different plans for immigration reform.

Clinton supports comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to full and equal citizenship,according to her campaign website. She has pledged to defend President Barack Obama’s executive actions – DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents) – which were intended to grant deferred action status to about 5 million undocumented immigrants, but were suspended after a federal judge issued a temporary injunction against them in February 2015. Clinton also wants to promote naturalization of immigrants, enforce immigration laws humanely, end family detention and close private immigration detention centers, and expand access to affordable health care to all families, regardless of immigration status.

Trump supports an immigration plan that would improve jobs, wages and security for all Americans,according to his campaign website. Some of Trump’s proposed immigration policies include: constructing a wall across America’s entire southern border, which Mexico must pay for; ending birthright citizenship; defunding sanctuary cities; and tripling the number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers from 5,000 to 15,000. Trump previously said that as president he would deport the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., as well as implement a temporary ban on Muslims immigrating to the U.S., but he has since dialed back on those policies, and instead proposed a policy of “extreme vetting” to determine whether or not potential immigrants’ beliefs align with American values.

While Trump and Clinton each have different policy proposals for immigration reform, neither of them will be able to effectively implement these policies without some cooperation from Congress. The congressional candidates in southeastern Pennsylvania also have differing views on immigration, and not all of them are in line with their parties’ presidential nominees. Digital First Media reached out to congressional candidates in the Philadelphia region to inquire about their views on immigration and whether or not they support any of the immigration policies proposed by any of the presidential candidates. In Montgomery, Delaware and Chester counties, the immigrant population has been dropping, and it has also been dropping as a percentage of the population, according to U.S. Census data.

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Pennsylvania’s candidates for U.S. Senate all seem to agree that America’s current immigration system needs to be reformed, but they have different ideas about what changes should be made.

Incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., of Upper Milford, Lehigh County, lauded America’s history of legal immigration, but criticized aspects of the present state of immigration policies.

“America has long benefited from legal immigration and the contributions of those who have come to this country willing to work hard and seek a better life,” Toomey said. “Almost all Americans have some connection to our immigrant history. In fact, my own grandparents emigrated here from Ireland.

“Unfortunately, our country’s immigration system today is fundamentally broken. Our borders are not secure, and our immigration laws are being broken by both employers trying to skirt the rules and those who seek to come here illegally. That is why I have supported efforts to strengthen border security, ensure that our immigration laws are enforced, and stop the outrageous practice of sanctuary cities that undermine our laws.” 

Katie McGinty, a Democrat from Wayne, Chester County, who is running against Toomey, said she supports comprehensive immigration reform, and she believes Toomey has not adequately addressed the issue.

“I would have proudly voted in favor of the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill that was negotiated by members of both parties, including Republican senators (John) McCain, (Lindsey) Graham and (Jeff) Flake,” McGinty said. “Comprehensive immigration reform will be a boost for our economy, lower the deficit, and take important steps to ensure our border is secure. 

“On the other hand, Pat Toomey has already shown that he is not serious about finding solutions to fix our broken immigration system and secure the border.

“Not only did Toomey oppose the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013 – which would’ve doubled the number of border patrol agents – but today he cannot even find the courage needed to disavow Donald Trump.”

Toomey has not endorsed any of the current presidential candidates, nor said who he plans to vote for. Ted Kwong, a campaign spokesman for Toomey, said McGinty’s “far-left agenda defies all common sense.”

“McGinty defends extreme sanctuary cities like Philadelphia that even the Obama administration and (former Gov.) Ed Rendell oppose …” Kwong said. “And McGinty’s immigration plan would even give citizenship to illegal immigrants, making them eligible for welfare benefits.”

According to a Philadelphia Inquirer article from July, McGinty has called for increased communications between Philadelphia police and federal law enforcement agencies, but she did not outright reject Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s decision to keep Philadelphia’s sanctuary city policy in place.

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Southeastern Pennsylvanians running to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives each have different ideas on how to address immigration reform.

U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, R-7, of Chadds Ford, said he supports legal immigration, but America’s borders must be secure.

“Our immigration system is broken,” Meehan said. “Fixing it starts with securing our border. Since coming to Congress I have worked with my colleagues to increase funding for border security to deter and prevent individuals from coming into our country illegally.

“We are a nation of immigrants, and immigrants of all heritage have a rich and proud tradition of contribution to American society. But we are also a nation of laws, and those laws need to be respected and enforced. We need to ensure we have a working immigration system, and that means an effective system to ensure legal immigration and to enforce our borders – not amnesty that encourages future lawbreaking. A nation that cannot defend its own borders will not long be a nation.”

Mary Ellen Balchunis of Haverford, the Democratic candidate in the 7th Congressional District, said she supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. 

“We must create a pathway to citizenship that pulls undocumented workers out of hiding,” Balchunis said. “In our current system undocumented labor is exploited to undercut wages and safety regulations, while placing an increased burden on our social services, schools and law enforcement. To make things worse, our current framework places families into heartbreaking dilemmas as they choose between complying with the law and keeping their families intact.

“When in Congress, I will prioritize families, fix the family visa backlog, strengthen border security and the enforcement of expired visas, end the three-year and 10-year bars, close private immigration detention centers, and support immigrant integration programs. For these reasons I support Hillary Clinton’s proposals and hope to work with her in the House to make them a reality.” 

The 7th District encompasses portions of Berks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Lancaster counties.

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The presidential and congressional candidates have various policy prescriptions for immigration reform, but the primary focus of immigration issues ultimately comes down to enforcement, according to a local lawyer.

Immigration attorney Sondra Miller-Wein, chair of the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the immigration policies proposed by the two major presidential candidates should be viewed against the backdrop of the last 20 to 30 years, which largely focused on enforcement.

“Congress has not made any major improvements to our nation’s immigration laws since 1986, and the last attempt at illegal immigration reform was in 1997,” said Miller-Wein, whose Immigration Law Options firm has offices in Ambler and Flourtown in Montgomery County. “Since then, the U.S. has focused almost exclusively on enforcement, spent more than $241 billion and more than doubled its border patrol and ICE agents since 2003. Over the last 10 years, ICE has deported nearly 3.5 million people, averaging 346,000 per year.”

Trump’s proposal to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico “seems simply impractical” and his proposed “mandatory deportation of all ‘criminal’ aliens challenges the notion of due process,” she said.

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