Congressional candidates on the issues: Separating immigrant families at the border

A road sign north of the U.S.-Mexico border near Tijuana. Photo credit Jonathan McIntosh. Used under a Creative Commons license.

We continue with the Kansas 3rd Congressional District candidates’ responses to our questionnaire, which was developed in June with input from readers.

Eight of the nine candidates running from the seat are participating. (Incumbent Rep. Kevin Yoder’s campaign says “we don’t participate in these types of surveys as a campaign policy.”)

Here’s question number three:

The separation of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border has drawn criticism from policymakers across the country. How should U.S. officials handle families attempting to enter the country? What specific points should comprehensive immigration reform legislation include?

Democratic candidates

Sylvia Williams

Children should never be separated from their parents unless there is a clear and present danger to the child. Families who are seeking asylum should remain together until their case is adjudicated. If the claim is rejected by the court, the family should be sent to the country of origin as a family unit. If the case is approved by the court, the family should be welcomed within our borders.

I support comprehensive immigration reform. I believe that the policy should include uniting families and offering asylum once legal requirements are met. Such cases should also ultimately offer a path to permanent status such as citizenship.

Brent Welder

The crisis of family separation at the border should draw more than criticism, it should draw outrage. I absolutely believe we need secure borders, as well as an effective system to enforce custom laws and appropriately accept people seeking asylum, but I also think we clearly need a change of internal culture and priorities in our agencies dealing with immigrants.

Reform should be driven by common sense, economic need, but also compassion.

And we need to hold politicians like Kevin Yoder accountable. He is the chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding on this issue, AND visited detention facilities just a couple of weeks before the crisis hit the press — he should have known and could have done something to stop this. But didn’t. Which is typical.

Our county has vibrant immigrant communities — so comprehensive immigration reform is a priority for me.

It is long past time to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes protections and a citizenship plan for DACA recipients, as well as a pathway to citizenship for people who have contributed positively to their communities for years.

We need visa reform in which immigrants who provide needed skills, expertise, innovation, and entrepreneurship should be welcomed, as should refugees fleeing crisis and threat, but in which we don’t incentivise corporate hiring of low-wage immigrants over U.S. citizens with similar skills.

Kansas’ workers should be protected and prioritized, and immigrants shouldn’t be exploited — so workplace protections and workers’ rights for ALL workers should be included in reform.

Border enforcement should not be forgotten in the discussion, but I think issues extend beyond just national borders, as many unauthorized immigrants have overstayed visas rather than unlawfully crossed the border.

Border control should also not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, or political or religious affiliation. Ideally, if we pass comprehensive immigration reform, border control can primarily focus on stopping drug cartels, criminals, and terrorists and helping human trafficking victims, rather than detaining families seeking asylum.

And, comprehensive immigration reform should abolish family separation and any inhumane treatment of immigrants. Reform should also include measures to diminish the economic and crime problems in countries from which immigrants are fleeing.

Finally, new laws should be passed that get rid of the unbelievable backlog and excessive delay in our immigration processes — families shouldn’t be held in limbo for a decade or more.

Sharice Davids

America should not be a country that locks children in cages. We should not be a country that separates families. We should not be a country that criminalizes immigrants and refugees seeking safety within our borders.

Rep. Kevin Yoder is the Chairperson of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Appropriations. He has the authority to directly affect funding for the agencies responsible for carrying out the cruel and inhumane practices taking place at our Southern Border. Instead, he wrote a letter. That is not leadership.

Every year, thousands of immigrants, asylum seekers, and migrants assume great hardships to find safety in America. They choose our country, because they see the United States as a land of justice, as a place of safety, and a beacon of hope.

Our immigration system is a complex and complicated maze, ripe for confusion and mistreatment. A vast majority of American people and legislators agree that we need comprehensive reform. What that looks like exactly is the topic of intense and often partisan debate.

Before any details are decided or even discussed, I call on all lawmakers to adhere to the tenants and legal framework of human rights that America has agreed to. Turning away women and children in grave danger, warehousing children in cages, deporting people whom we promised to protect…these actions are not reflective of the America I want to live in. They do not represent the values our country claims to hold. And further, they do not uphold the treaties and declarations to which the United States has committed.

If America is to be the land of opportunity and the beacon of hope that we claim, our immigration policies must be rooted in the fundamental principles of humanity. They must recognize, respect, and honor the basic human rights of all people. And they must uphold the commitments we as a country have made to the international community.

All of our laws, policies and practices – including but not limited to immigration – must reflect the morality we claim and the legally-binding commitments we have made.

Mike McCamon

The separation of children from their parents by our country is shameful and the trauma inflicted on these families will have lasting impacts on their mental health, outlook on life, and opinion of our country. We must immediately end these policies and restore humanity to the immigration crisis at our borders.

We are a country of immigrants and to deny this heritage is disrespectful to the real struggles many of our families faced to ultimately find liberty and prosperity in the United States. It is important to also agree that undocumented persons, immigrants, Visa card holders, and citizens should comply with our laws pertaining to the responsibilities and pathways to citizenship.

Long time neighbors make our country better so helping them gain citizenship and be reunited with their families should be our priority; not arbitrary enforcement designed to destabilize our neighborhoods. A society can and should be measured by how it treats those most marginalized and at risk, and we owe it to our own immigrant ancestors to welcome everyone who strives for liberty. Some additional positions include:

  • Permanent and immediate amnesty for Dreamers
  • Immediately suspend funding for ICE and convene hearings on Reign of Terror enforcement tactics
  • Reformed pathway to citizenship for law abiding people who may be here illegally
  • Improve responsiveness to international genocide, wars, and conflicts
  • Aggressively pursue, prosecute, and deport immigrants who threaten public safety
  • Differentiate between violent crimes and fraud or illegal presence
  • Strengthen border protection and emphatically oppose a Border Wall with Mexico.

Tom Niermann

I’ve taught American History for nearly 30 years, and have a PhD in the subject. It has never been more important in recent history to be mindful of how we all came to live in this land. Long before the Declaration of Independence enshrined our ideals in an immortal document, those ideals were obvious in the people who made the treacherous journey to the New World from the old. Before America was a nation, it was simply a land, a haven for communities fleeing persecution around the world.

Predating our constitution was an even more fundamental American promise, that those who seek it will find a home among us, and will be welcomed as one of us. The American identity is not an inheritance owed to any one ethnic group, but a chosen identity for those who seek out opportunity or refuge here.

But today in the United States we face a crisis of moral courage, and our leaders have defaulted on that American promise. Our government has turned away refugees, ripped children from their parents, and codified religious discrimination in our laws.

I’ve taught Dreamers and worked with undocumented families. The fear and anxiety that they or their family will be forcibly removed from their home has the ability to overwhelm everything else. That fear is unfair and wrong. Can any one of us look into the eyes of a child, who has known no other home but the United States, and tell them that they deserve deportation? That they ought not be permitted to vote, get a job, or go to college? Or for that matter, that any child from around the world deserves to be torn from their parents at the border? These are absurd and immoral positions.

Immigration helps our economy grow, adds to the rich cultural diversity of the United States, and is fundamental to the fabric of our national identity. That’s why I support a clean DREAM Act, a clear path to citizenship for those already in our country, and will advocate for other policies supporting new Americans, like in-state tuition rates & municipal IDs. Immigrant communities in the United States should be able to trust and work closely their local law enforcement, which should remain separate from federal immigration authorities.

Jay Sidie

What has happened at the border is inhumane and horrifying. We need to support families, not fear.

Tearing families apart is unacceptable. I also do not believe jailing families together is the answer. Children do not belong in jail cells or detainment pens. The negative psychological, impacts of these atrocious detainments can be lifelong.

There are alternatives. One is a family case management system (piloted in five metropolitan areas in 2016), which allows families to be released together and monitored by case workers while they await their court hearings (which can last more than two years). This pilot had almost a 99 percent success rate in immigrants showing up for their hearings – and it saved the government money. There are also successful programs that use electronic ankle monitors and unannounced home visits to track families who have been released while waiting for their hearings.

Right now, we need to continue putting pressure on the administration to reunite these families. And we need to track this activity to ensure it is happening in a timely fashion. We also should restore the due process and waivers that were taken away in the 1996 reform. (A 1996 statute permits immigration authorities to deport people without a hearing, a lawyer or a right of appeal under certain conditions.).

Republican candidates

Trevor Keegan

President Trump has constantly referenced immigration in rallies and implemented policies that he sees as strengthening our border. Unfortunately, what seems to always be missing from these policies is empathy for the immigrants. Immigrants, whether legal or illegal, are people just like you and me. While some immigrants might be smugglers or gang members, the majority are just trying to do the best they can for their families. They are leaving their home countries due to persecution, economic hardship, or just for their chance at the American dream. We need to keep that in mind as we consider how to improve our immigration system.

When discussing the poor conditions and treatment that immigrants have to face, I have heard people say that if they don’t like it, they shouldn’t be entering our country illegally. It seems that many feel that if they enter the country illegally, it doesn’t matter if they are treated fairly. That is definitely the wrong attitude to take. As Americans, we are better than that. Regarding the current policy of separating families, in the short term, if we are going to detain families, they need to be detained together. Long term, we need a comprehensive immigration policy that would make detaining families in this manner unnecessary.

I believe comprehensive immigration reform should be focused on making the process simpler to get into our country. If the legal process to get into the country was simple, no one would try entering the country illegally. This would allow border security to focus on the truly dangerous individuals who would not have a path into the country legally. I also believe that a comprehensive solution would make a border wall unnecessary. A border wall would be incredibly costly, and without other reforms, I do not believe it would have the desired impact. I also believe Dreamers and other immigrants that have been in this country for over five years need to be given a path to legal residency. This country is their home, whether they have been living here legally or not.

Kevin Yoder has been a strong supporter of reforming skilled labor immigration, but that is just a small part of the solution that we need. Comprehensive immigration reform requires strong leaders in Washington, and as your congressman I will work hard to identify solutions that will benefit our country as a whole.

Joe Myers

All residents of foreign nations should be protected, and once those people are accounted for, we can deal with refugees on an individual basis. Keeping families together is of prime importance.

Rep. Kevin Yoder

Did not respond

Check back tomorrow for the candidates’ responses to item four:

The tax cut bill signed into law by President Trump has reduced businesses’ and individuals’ tax liabilities by hundreds of millions of dollars. But the Congressional Budget Office projects the policy will add around $1 trillion to the federal deficit. Do you support the legislation? Are you comfortable with the increase in the federal deficit?