S.E. Pa. congressional candidates offer their views on immigration
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
Not all Hispanics are immigrants and not all immigrants are Hispanics. U.S. Census figures
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.
U.S. Senate Candidates’ Views
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.
Edward Clifford III of Marple, Delaware County, a Libertarian candidate in the U.S. Senate race, said he believes America needs immigration reform, and that welfare issues are also tied to immigration issues.
“We need to abolish the welfare state and return to the United States as a place where all people could come and live and try to make a better life for themselves,” Clifford said. “Congress can remove the federal entitlements which are handouts to people to avoid the issues which come with welfare abuse.” Clifford said he is opposed to building walls and perpetuating sanctuary cities.
Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson is opposed to building a border wall or simply offering amnesty to undocumented immigrants, but he believes the process for legal immigration should be made simpler and more efficient, and that there should be a more efficient system of providing work visas, conducting background checks, and incentivizing non-citizens to pay their taxes, obtain proof of employment, and otherwise assimilate with America’s diverse society, according to his campaign website.
U.S. House Candidates’ Views
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, Delaware County, 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, Delaware County, 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 threeyear 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.
U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-6, of West Goshen, Chester County, said the country needs immigration reform, and there are several steps Congress can take to address this issue.
“The U.S. was founded by immigrants and legal immigration is an important aspect of American society,” Costello said. “However, our current immigration system is broken. We must work to replace the current patchwork of laws and unilateral regulations with an effective and functional system that addresses the modern security challenges posed at our borders and encourages individuals who wish to come to the U.S. legally to do so in a fair, effective, and humane manner.
“First and foremost, we must secure our borders. By taking a step-by-step approach to gain operational control of our borders and implement effective enforcement mechanisms to verify identity, prevent fraud, and address visa overstays, Congress can reform our broken immigration system and strengthen our national security.
“Likewise, Congress can reform legal, employmentbased immigration programs. Agricultural guestworker programs should be updated to meet current economic needs. Further, green card and visa allocations should reflect the demand of American employers and the growing number of talented foreign individuals who wish to pursue high-skilled careers and spur American economic growth.” When asked if he supports any of the immigration plans proposed by any of the presidential candidates, Costello said he values results ahead of rhetoric.
Mike Parrish of Willistown, Chester County, a Democrat running against Costello in the 6th Congressional District, said America needs comprehensive immigration reform, and legislation to enact it is long overdue.
“Partisan bickering in Congress has stalled these efforts to the detriment of everyone,” Parrish said. “Congress needs to take action to pass responsible comprehensive immigration reform. I support comprehensive immigration reform as an important policy priority. Reform is imperative not just to immigrants and their families, it is important to national security and the U.S. economy. In 2013, immigrants contributed $1.3 trillion to GDP and helped to raise the standard of living for all Americans.
“I support comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, while making sure that we protect U.S. workers and stop abuses of the system. Abuse of programs like H1B visas allow employers to exploit foreign workers, while taking away highly skilled, family sustaining jobs from American workers. Inaction on the part of Congress and continued abuse of the system must end.”
In response to a question about whether or not he supports any of the presidential candidates’ immigration plans, Parrish said: “It is not Congress’ job to blindly follow the president’s lead on any important issue. Donald Trump’s plan to address immigration by building a wall and deporting millions of people is disastrous and foolish. Hillary Clinton’s plan is more reasonable and responsible. In Congress, I will work in a bipartisan way to craft and pass comprehensive immigration reform that makes sense and respects our values as a nation of immigrants, while making sure that we responsibly manage growth and keep our nation secure.”
The 6th District is composed of portions of Berks, Chester, Lebanon and Montgomery counties.
Brian Fitzpatrick, of Levittown, Bucks County, the Republican candidate for the 8th Congressional District, said he supports reforming America’s immigration system and securing the border.
“As a former FBI agent who supported counterterrorism efforts, I know firsthand the threats our nation faces from our broken immigration system,” Fitzpatrick said. “Protecting our border is an important part of increasing our national security. Congress must act to secure the border through a physical barrier, aerial surveillance, enhanced human intelligence program, and the formation of a federal agent/National Guard task force. Equally important, our legal immigration system needs to be reformed to provide better screenings for those coming through the ‘front door’ to ensure that we can continue to be a nation that welcomes all seeking freedom and opportunity.”
Brian Fitzpatrick’s brother, Mike Fitzpatrick, the Republican congressman who currently represents the 8th District, is not seeking re-election. State Rep. Steve Santarsiero, D-31, of Lower Makefield, Bucks County, the Democratic candidate in the 8th District race, did not respond to Digital First Media’s request for comment. The 8th District includes all of Bucks County and part of Montgomery County.
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-13, of Philadelphia, said he believes the country needs immigration reform, but he criticized Trump’s approach.
“Congress needs to act comprehensively on immigration reform to fix our broken system,” Boyle said. Referring to a 2013 bipartisan immigration reform bill passed in the U.S. Senate 7030, he said, “the House Republican leadership failed to
act on that bipartisan compromise,” not even allowing a vote.
“Both sides of the aisle need to come together and act to make our immigration system more efficient, to strengthen our borders, to verify that employers are hiring employees legal to work in the United States and to provide a pathway for undocumented immigrants to have a legal way to earn citizenship,” he said.
Boyle said he is “deeply troubled by the angry rhetoric of Donald Trump,” which, he said “is not in keeping with the spirit of America.”
“We are a nation of immigrants,” he said, noting his father and all four grandparents were born in Ireland. Despite that, “at some point in history it seems that almost every immigrant group was targeted and scapegoated,” he said. “We need to overcome prejudice and bigotry.”
Boyle is running unopposed in the 13th District, which consists of parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County.
Immigration Lawyer Weighs In
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.
A supporter of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds up his shirt, which bears the Trump slogan “Build a Wall,” following a rally for Trump Aug. 30 in Everett, Wash.
Carmen Vasaturo of Philadelphia holds a sign showing his support of Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along America’s southern border, during Trump’s visit to the Aston Community Center Tuesday night.
“Build the wall” has been a popular chant, and this Donald Trump supporter had it written across his chest.