Democratic candidates for the 14th Congressional District voiced positions Monday in direct contrast to the current direction of immigration reform. But the six candidates in attendance struggled to differentiate themselves from their March primary opponents.
There are seven Democrats vying to unseat incumbent Republican Randy Hultgren in November. Six of them squared off at a League of Women Voters forum at McHenry County College Monday night.
Lauren Underwood squeezed the most information into an immigration answer limited to a one-minute time cap. She proposed a revision to the list of preferred nations and the number of immigrants accepted each year from those nations. Like all her rivals, Underwood said she supports the young, undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, but she believes immigration is a multifaceted issue.
"We need a quick, permanent solution to the DACA debacle," Underwood said. "We had a solution. It was working. (President Donald Trump) messed it up. Comprehensive immigration reform must go beyond DACA."
She called the proposal to expand the wall on the Mexican border a "ridiculous waste of money." She also said she "wholeheartedly" rejects what she termed "the Muslim travel ban."
Jim Walz won the Democratic primary two years ago. He said the Trump administration's immigration policies are "pitting families against each other."
"I'm a fan of the Dreamers," Walz continued. "We need to keep families together."
George Weber said opinion polls prove the current direction of immigration reform "is not implementing the will of the people."
Weber said immigrants are needed to fill jobs in America, but "we have to make sure they don't take jobs that are intended for Americans. That's the one thing about it."
Matthew Brolley spoke of fears expressed to him by his own daughter, who is Mexican, about being separated from her grandparents. He said he's spoken with DACA recipients working toward earning a university degree to contribute back to the United States. He will support a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and said efforts to withhold citizenship for them to get money for an enhanced border wall are "a stain on the fabric of our country."
"There is so much immigrants can offer this country," Brolley said.
John Hosta said his own experience in local immigration offices proved to him there is not enough progress on the backlog of people seeking citizenship. He said there is too much red tape holding back millions of people who "are already working and contributing to our society. We simply need to start there and get these people on board."
Daniel Roldan-Johnson said, as a teacher, he deals with students struggling with fears about not being able to complete their education and parents being deported.
"I stand firmly behind the Dreamers," he said. "Trump's policies and his fear mongering are having real effects on people. They should be able to stay."
The seventh Democrat, Victor Swanson, had a prior commitment. He did not attend the forum. On his website, Swanson espouses favorable views of immigrants.
"Immigrants contribute to our economy and play a great role in making our country great," Swanson wrote on his site. "Building a wall will do nothing to prevent illegal immigration. The United States is going to either move forward with the world and its citizens or be left behind."