A group of Gonzaga University students, fresh from a visit to the Mexico border last month, questioned the need for a border wall during a Wednesday meeting with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
“It’s frustrating, first of all, looking at the budget for it,” said Francesca Nevil, a sophomore. “And just how little it’s going to do. We heard that over and over again.”
The group of four students, who made the trip to Nogales, Arizona, and Tijuana, Mexico, as part of the school’s Justice in January service learning trip a few weeks ago, reached out to McMorris Rodgers’ office to share their experiences this week. Congress faces an approaching deadline to make a deal on legislation affecting more than 700,000 children of people who migrated illegally and have remained in the country under action by President Barack Obama.
McMorris Rodgers reiterated her support for President Donald Trump’s request for $1.6 billion that included plans for a wall, but she said “more sophisticated technology” including drones should also be explored and that her focus was on a secure border.
The congresswoman also said she remained committed to striking a deal on a future for the Obama-era policy before a March 5 deadline imposed by Trump.
“What concerned me about the previous administration, and I said it at the time, I believed that the president, through the executive order, was basically legislating the fix,” McMorris Rodgers said of Obama’s action, called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. “That is sidelining Congress.”
McMorris Rodgers added that she understood why Obama took the action he did, because Congress hadn’t moved forward with a solution of their own. But she said the deadline imposed by Trump should spur action.
“Sometimes Congress operates best on a deadline,” she said.
Amayrani Chavez-Godinez, a senior at Gonzaga, told McMorris Rodgers her mother migrated to the United States from Michoacan, Mexico, and remains on a green card in California.
“This is going to be the first graduation from college that my mom gets to attend for one of her kids,” Chavez-Godinez said of her impending matriculation this May.
Chavez-Godinez asked McMorris Rodgers what her ideal policy would be to take the place of Obama’s executive action, which allows applicants to seek two-year deferrals from deportation and receive work permits.
McMorris Rodgers, who has aligned herself with Trump on many immigration issues, said that recipients should have “a way to remain here, and be legal, go to school and work, and, ultimately, become citizens.”
Lydia Lopez, also a senior, questioned why the congresswoman has pushed, as has a bipartisan group of legislators at the federal level, to revisit the qualifications needed for so-called “chain migration,” which allows legal residents to sponsor certain family members to come to America. Lopez said her family had spent a decade working to allow her aunt to migrate across the border, pushing against the notion the process is easy and should be curtailed.
“We’ve hired attorneys. We’ve checked off all the boxes,” Lopez said. “We’ve been denied two or three times, and she has children who are documented citizens.”
McMorris Rodgers said she supported looking at the scope of eligibility for the program. Chain migration was included as one of four principles for reform agreed to by a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, but so far there’s been little movement toward a deal as many members of Congress return home for a Presidents Day recess.
Lopez said afterward that the meeting, sponsored annually by the university’s Center for Community Engagement, allowed her to understand the views of people who will be affected by a political discussion that has been going on for years, heightened by the recent government shutdown where immigration policy took center stage.
“It’s hard. There is a lot of great work being done at Gonzaga and in Spokane,” Lopez said. “But it’s still frustrating. It’s ignoring the human aspect that comes with immigration. It’s all politics, and these people are being used as pawns.”