Hot Button Immigration Issue Sizzles on as GOP Convention Ends, Democratic Convention Convenes - Southern Maryland Headline News

Hot Button Immigration Issue Sizzles on as GOP Convention Ends, Democratic Convention Convenes

CLEVELAND (July 22, 2016)—Build a bridge. Build a wall.

Democrats and Republicans have two very different visions of how to deal with the thousands of foreign nationals who want to come to the U.S. every year and the millions of people who migrated here, many illegally.

Nowhere was that difference more evident than this week at the Republican National Convention, which culminated Thursday night in GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump's full-throated condemnation of current immigration policies and his call for extreme restrictions on entering the country.

"Nearly 180,000 people with criminal records ordered deported from our country are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens," Trump said Thursday night. "We are going to build a great border wall."

He tried to tie the issue in with the economic struggles Americans face, including those within minority communities.

"Decades of record immigration have produced lower wages and higher unemployment for our citizens," Trump said. "Especially for African Americans and Latino workers."

Beginning Monday, when the Democratic National Convention opens, Hillary Clinton and her party are expected to make the case that Trump's way is wrong and try to win over some of his supporters and undecided voters for whom immigration is the key ballot issue. That battle has already been joined.

"Unity is better than division, empowerment is better than resentment, and bridges are better than walls," Clinton tweeted on June 7 in a response to the rhetoric from Trump.

Clinton has repeatedly promised to introduce legislation for comprehensive immigration reform that will smooth the pathway for "full and equal citizenship" within her first 100 days in office, if elected. She also, according to her campaign website, will allow all families, no matter their immigration status, to buy into the Affordable Care Act.

According to a 2014 Mexican National Survey of Demographic Dynamics, from 2009 to 2014 around 1 million Mexicans left the U.S. for their home country. At the same time, 870,000 Mexicans came to the U.S.

A 2013 Pew Research Center report found that undocumented immigrants accounted for 3.7 percent of the total U.S. population and 5.2 percent of the labor force.

Voters are going to have to sort through a lot of charged rhetoric to get at the best solutions. There is little consensus on the details of curbing immigration, except that something must be done.

At the GOP convention Monday, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, took a hard line, saying American citizens already struggle to find work, so it "cannot be our policy to have workers from abroad take jobs while we provide support payments for unemployed Americans."

But he softened his position by calling immigrants, "for the most part, wonderful new additions to our country."

Jamiel Shaw Sr., the father of Jamiel Shaw Jr., who in 2008 was killed at age 17 by an undocumented immigrant, also spoke on Monday with harsher rhetoric.

"We learned the killer was an illegal-alien gangbanger from Mexico released from jail with a deportation hold, three gun charges and an assault and battery on a police officer," Shaw Sr. said.

Gustavo Torres, president of the national pro-immigration reform group CASA in Action, said such fiery speech about constructing barriers and painting some immigrants as dangerous does little to solve the problem of 11 million undocumented people in the country.

Unless the Republican Party can come up with different solutions, Torres said, the problem can only become worse.

"I don't see leadership from the Republican platform or leaders to address that situation," Torres said. "I think they are going to create more crises in our families and country if they execute what they put on paper in the Republican platform."

Dwight Patel, an at-large Maryland GOP delegate, disagrees with Torres' line of thinking. Constructing a border wall and taking a hardline position on undocumented immigrants is a viable solution, he said.

"There is nothing wrong with building a wall," Patel said. "If you're illegal, that means illegal. You're breaking the law coming into the country."

There is dissention even within parties about the issue. One Maryland Republican is fearful of the tone coming from members of his party throughout the campaign.

"I am concerned, and I remain concerned about some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric because that hits me to the core," said Augustus Alzona, a real estate agent from Bethesda and an immigrant from the Philippines.

The Democratic Party and its presumptive nominee offer an immigration platform that contrasts dramatically with those expressed by the Republicans.

Torres said Clinton and the Democrats are more in line with his group's positions, but that they must be ready to ensure they will uphold their promises.

"One thing is what you speak and another thing is what you do," Torres said. "We need to be ready to speak and be ready to mobilize to make sure Hillary Clinton, if she is elected, will do what she said she will do."

Patel disagrees with the positions championed by Clinton, although he concedes a middle-ground could be reached if undocumented individuals receive amnesty but are not allowed to vote, receive welfare or Social Security for "two generations."

Maryland Democratic Party Executive Director Charles Conner said Trump's immigration platform is based on "divisiveness and fear-mongering," and added that the strategies proposed would hurt more than they would help.

"Round-ups and raids strike fear in communities, pushing undocumented immigrants further into the shadow," Conner said. "Our nation's immigration fix should prioritize keeping families together."

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