President Donald Trump’s Oval Office address Tuesday night prompted reaction from many, including some local political activists.
In his primetime speech, Trump argued for the need to fund a border wall, or some other type of border security, and said there was a crisis at the border. This came during a shutdown of about a quarter of the federal government, leaving thousands of government employees either furloughed or working without pay.
“I agree 100 percent that it’s a crisis on the border,” said Steve Balich, a Republican Will County Board member from Homer Glen.
Balich agreed that a lack of border security led to illegal drugs coming into the U.S. The Associated Press fact-checked Trump’s claim of the border being a “pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl” and said drug trafficking is concentrated at land ports of entry. Only a small percentage of heroin is seized on territory between those ports, the AP said.
“The wall should have been built a long time ago,” Balich said.
Cornel Darden, the president of the Will County Young Republicans, agreed something needed to be done to address illegal immigration.
“I do believe in border security,” he said.
But he did part with Trump about deporting the undocumented population in the country and preferred to grant them legal status, while continuing to enforce border security with those still wanting to cross. Politically however, Darden said he thought Trump shouldn’t yield to the Democrats during negotiations.
On the other hand, Jose Vera, the executive director of the Bolingbrook-based Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project, argued Congress should vote to reopen the government without giving money to a border wall or more border enforcement. Instead, he argued, any money given has to be tied to accountability for immigration enforcement.
Vera cited the recent deaths of two immigrant children who were being held in custody as examples of why the country’s immigration system needed a comprehensive change. He argued that individuals seeking asylum at legal points of entry should not be detained, and immigration enforcement should instead use ankle bracelets. He said keeping asylum seekers in detention centers is costing U.S. taxpayers money.
Overall, Vera said he’s unsure of where the debate will go, but Trump’s approach won’t fix a broken immigration system.
“[Trump has] manufactured a crisis that doesn’t exist,” Vera said. “And is using the government shutdown to push a white nationalist and anti-immigrant agenda.”