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Democratic Roundtable On Immigration


We heard elsewhere in the show from Republican voters on President Trump's immigration policies. Now we turn to Democrats. Has the immigration debate helped or hindered the party in the eyes of voters across the country? Bruce Carlton of Washington, D.C., is a retired federal government worker.

BRUCE CARLTON: I'm a lifelong Democrat, probably a liberal Democrat.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Los Angeles writer Yvette Montoya identifies as a progressive. Immigration has affected her life in almost every way, she says.

YVETTE MONTOYA: Both my parents are immigrants. My boyfriend is an immigrant. My ex-husband is an immigrant. So I have seen the process. And I see how badly broken it is.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Lorena Gingerish works in human resources and lives in West Branch, Iowa. Like Yvette, she has a lot of personal experience with immigration. Her parents came to the U.S. from Mexico.

LORENA GINGERISH: Something needs to be done because it shouldn't take that long, and it affects lives.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I started by asking them about their reactions to the current situation at the border.

CARLTON: I think, like so many other Americans, I'm horrified by what we're seeing on the border right now. Separating children from their families is intolerable. It should not be accepted under any circumstances. But at the same time, I think that illegal immigration is a problem. This is a nation of laws. And I think we need a process that allows people who are seeking a better life to find a way to get into this country legally without the very long process that it takes right now.


MONTOYA: Well, aren't these people seeking asylum? I don't believe that it is illegal to seek asylum. And saying that our country is built on laws - like, these are unjust laws. And not only that, but they apply to everybody differently, especially with immigration. And, you know, certain people get right through. And certain people have to wait decades.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lorena, what is your view?

GINGERISH: Yes. I totally agree with what everybody has said up until now. But I think the biggest thing is separating kids from their parents. You know, all previous administrations did not do this. It's just so heartbreaking, and something has to be done.

MONTOYA: Can I say something?


MONTOYA: Yes, we need to put families together. But we never should have separated them to begin with. And we shouldn't be incarcerating them to begin with. I think these specialized facilities are concentration camps. And we should call them what they are.

CARLTON: I do reject the term concentration camp. I mean, that is a heritage of enormous shame and scorn from World War II. And I don't think it's comparable. They are being held in detention. Absolutely, that is the case. But there's also a question in my mind. Are these individuals seeking entry into the United States - are they immigrants? Or are they refugees? Hearing the stories, watching the stories on television and other news media about the conditions that these people are leaving behind - it's heartbreaking. It's heartrending.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yvette, what limits, if any, do you see on immigration?

MONTOYA: I just see that the process needs to be streamlined, and it needs to apply equally across the board because we can't be conflating asylum-seekers with people who are immigrating here on their own volition. But realistically, most people who are coming from Central America and from Mexico are not coming here because they necessarily want to. Like everyone is saying, they're coming here because they have to.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, there is a lot of gang violence. But the Trump administration says, you know, we cannot take in everybody who is having a bad time in their country of origin. We cannot simply allow anyone who is under threat in their home country to come to the United States. What is your response to that?

MONTOYA: Well, I think that that's fine. We don't have to take everybody. But if we don't want to create refugees then we shouldn't be over there making their countries terrible.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think what you're suggesting is that a lot of the violence in Central America found its roots in the civil wars of the 1980s, which the United States was heavily involved in?


GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the things that the Republicans have managed to do quite successfully is say that Democrats, frankly, are more interested in the well-being of people from other countries than the well-being of Americans. And that is an argument that they have used in the DACA debate with the DREAMers and in other moments. And I'm wondering if immigration is something that you feel is fundamental to the Democratic Party. I mean, do you think that this is a fight that is worth sort of standing up for?

CARLTON: Well, if I may, I find that a very offensive commentary from Republicans. The Republicans have proven that they have absolutely no will to fix the immigration issue, whatever that fix might look like. They have excluded the Democrats from negotiations on any of the current legislation that seems to be tearing apart the Republican Party because, again, they're showing that they're at war with themselves over fundamental policy issues. But Democrats have long been identified, I believe, with the plight of immigrants and the rights of immigrants. But to suggest that, somehow, they favor immigrants over native-born Americans or citizens of every stripe - that's offensive.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lorena, you live in Iowa. And your husband is a Trump supporter. Without getting really into your marital relationship, I want to know how you talk about this issue and if you've influenced each other.

GINGERISH: Well, you know, it has been interesting. And we try not to discuss it too much. But I think this immigration issue - we have been going back and forth. And the one word that keeps coming up is empathy. And he has empathy to a certain point because he knows my history. He knows that I have relatives who have gone through this type of situation before, so he has that empathy. But at the same time, he says, you know, the law is the law. So I haven't been able to convince him that for me it's a moral situation more than it is a lawful situation. But I know deep down, he does care for me and my relatives. And he knows our history. But I just can't get him to - you know, to really have that empathy towards people that - he says, you know, I don't even know these people, so why should I have empathy? I think, you know, the Democrats really have to step up their game. And I think the immigration discussion was lost in our last election. And we have to make sure we talk about it, and we put it at the forefront and that we talk about it in a smart way, not in a divisive way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you very much. Democratic voters Lorena Gingerish from West Branch, Iowa, Yvette Montoya from Los Angeles and Bruce Carlton from here in Washington, D.C.

CARLTON: Thank you.

MONTOYA: Thank you.

GINGERISH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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