9th Congressional candidates differ on how many Syrian refugees to allow

Syrians fleeing their war-torn country are pouring into Europe, and thousands have come to the United States.

How many Syrian refugees should the U.S. allow in? The two candidates running for the 9th Congressional District - Democratic U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Republican Joan McCarthy Lasonde - have starkly different opinions.

Lasonde, of Wilmette, who identifies herself as a centrist rather than a conservative, believes the number should be capped at 10,000.

"I have no problem helping the less fortunate. I was raised that way," said Lasonde, a mother of three, including a foster child. "But I know firsthand that people are struggling in our district. We have homeless children right in our district. We have homeless veterans. My priority is the constituents of the 9th District. Until we can put our own house in order ... we really should be focusing on our most vulnerable current citizens."

Lasonde said Syrian immigrants would do better if they stayed in their homeland, with help of humanitarian aid from the United States, possibly through the Red Cross.

Schakowsky, of Evanston, who shared a Thanksgiving dinner last year with a group that included three Syrian refugee families, favors allowing 100,000 Syria immigrants into the U.S. She said people wrongly think that the United States just opens its borders and lets Syrians in. In fact, she said, there's a "very robust vetting process" that takes anywhere from 18 months to two years and gives priority to families rather than single adult men.

Schakowsky said the U.S. "can easily absorb" the cost associated with taking them in.

"It's who we are, as a nation. We really are a nation of immigrants," she said.

Lasonde acknowledges that she's facing an uphill battle gainst Schakowsky, who's spent 17 years representing the district, which includes parts of Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect and Des Plaines.

But Lasonde is prepared to fight, saying her views are more in tune with district residents'.

Lasonde, a former advertising executive, grew up in Skokie. Her parents were both teachers. She's had a lifelong interest in politics and said she has worked on campaigns for Republicans like former Gov. Jim Edgar, U.S. Rep. Robert Dold and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk.

In this race, she has been endorsed by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, among others.

Schakowsky has worked for many causes during her years in Congress, including reducing health care premiums, protecting and expanding Social Security, and ending discrimination against women and LGBTQ Americans.

In June, Schakowsky was part of the historic sit-in on the House floor to call for action on gun violence, including comprehensive background checks.

Among her immediate concerns are improving the Affordable Care Act and bringing prescription drug prices down.

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