Issues surrounding illegal immigration were hot topics at a political forum Saturday afternoon showcasing seven Republican candidates for state and federal offices in this year’s election cycle.
Sanctuary cities, border security (including The Wall) and the integrity of the voting process were among the matters touched on in that regard by both incumbents and hopefuls for congressional and state legislative seats covering Surry County.
“The first thing I have to say about illegal immigration is thank God we have Donald Trump in the White House,” said state Rep. Kyle Hall of the get-tough approaches being taken by the president. That remark drew applause from the audience for the forum that was sponsored by the Surry County Republican Party as a prelude to primary elections on May 8.
Hall’s presence at the event held in the gymnasium of Temple Baptist Church on U.S. 601 was a result of recent redistricting that resulted in some unfamiliar faces greeting local GOP voters.
A Realtor from King, Hall represents District 91 in the N.C. House of Representatives now including Stokes and Rockingham counties, but as of next year also will have 11 precincts in Surry. He has no primary opposition, but will be looking for his party’s support in the November general election.
Another newcomer to the Surry election scene present Saturday was Sen. Deanna Ballard, an incumbent now representing the 45th District covering Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell and Watauga counties. An upcoming change will include incumbent Sen. Shirley Randleman of Wilkes County, who now represents Surry, moving from the 30th to 45th District to include 15 county precincts.
While Randleman and Ballard are squaring off, 14 other Surry precincts are to be included in a reconfigured District 30 seat for which Phillip Berger has no Republican opposition. He was not present Saturday.
Meanwhile, another forum participant, Rep. Sarah Stevens, and her opponent, Allen Poindexter, are vying for a revamped District 90 seat for which Stevens is now serving her fifth two-year term. It will include 18 Surry precincts.
Rounding out the slate at Saturday’s forum was U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, who serves Surry County in Congress, and Dillon Gentry, who is seeking to unseat her. Another Foxx GOP opponent, Cortland Meader, did not attend.
Candidates gave timed responses to the same questions Saturday, but could not rebut comments. “This is a forum, not a debate,” Surry Republican Party Chairman Mark Jones told the audience.
Sanctuary cities unpopular
Though the seven are vying for different offices under an array of circumstances, one thing they all seemed to have in common Saturday was a desire to end illegal immigration.
The presence of sanctuary cities that serve as safe havens for illegals was a key focus during the event, where discussion indicated that such places are not just in California but North Carolina.
“They might not call them sanctuary cities, but they are sanctuary cities,” Randleman said.
In responding to a question about how to solve immigration problems through laws already on the books, the Wilkesboro lawmaker offered a solution regarding sanctuaries.
“The thing we keep coming back to is withholding their funding,” said Randleman, who believes those localities will find they can’t survive without state dollars and alter their stance on illegals.
“But it is a major problem.”
Ballard also favors cutting funding to such cities.
Rep. Stevens, who was worked as an attorney for 32 years, said the issue is complicated. “How do you prove who is sanctuary cities?” she said of cases in which no such official declarations have been made.
Stevens also mentioned that the apprehension of illegal immigrants is largely a federal rather than state function. “It’s not that we’ve ignored it,” she said of North Carolina legislators, but there is a need to proceed cautiously.
Poindexter thinks another way to attack the problem is more controls on social services programs that undocumented individuals might be accessing, such as food stamps. He said if illegals are receiving such assistance, it represents a slap in the face to legal residents who don’t tap into those programs.
“They’re hardworking people out there that can’t even support their family.”
Hall says he will resist any efforts to allow illegals to obtain North Carolina driver’s licenses, which has been attempted in the past.
Gentry, the opponent of Foxx, offered a differing view of sanctuary cities.
“That term as a whole is kind of misused,” said the former carpenter and Marine, who explained that it implies cities are in no way cooperative.
“They don’t give up information to federal authorities — that’s all it is,” Gentry said.
Gentry said he worked with members of the immigrant population as a carpenter. “Some of the finest people I know are illegals.”
However, if borders aren’t protected and laws enforced, “I don’t know how you can maintain your sovereignty,” the candidate acknowledged.
“I’m in favor of building a wall,” Foxx said of the Mexican border barrier backed by Trump.
The federal lawmaker from Watauga County pointed that she has tried to get it built since 2006, and was blocked by Rep. Nancy Pelosi when Democrats took control of the House.
Protecting election system
The issue of illegal immigration also was accompanied by comments Saturday on safeguarding the voting process from people trying to cast ballots who are not entitled to do so.
This includes a voter ID law requiring those showing up at the polls to present a photo identification, which drew support.
Stevens said a law in North Carolina to require that was struck down by Obama-era judges 5-4, yet the climate has changed with the advent of Trump court appointees.
“This is another time for me to say thank God for Donald Trump,” Hall said.
“We do plan to pass another voter ID law,” Stevens pledged.
She said the intent is not to disqualify voters, but “make sure the person voting is who they say they are.”
Poindexter said a voter ID law is crucial, and Ballard agreed.
“When I go vote, I always show my ID whether or not they ask for it,” she said. “Voter ID is critically important.”
Foxx said the election process needs examining in America as a whole.
“There does need to be a cleanup of the rolls,” she said of ensuring proper registration and keeping people from casting ballots in multiple jurisdictions. “We do need to do more at the local, state and federal levels.”
Despite court setbacks with the voter ID provision, “we have to keep fighting,” Randleman said.
“And we have to keep Donald Trump in the White House.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.