U.S. Senate Candidates On The Issues: Immigration

Nov 5, 2016

Two longtime Ohio politicians are duking it out for your vote in the race for U.S. Senate. Republican Senator Rob Portman has held the office since 2011 but Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland wants to take his place. In a three-part series breaking down the race issue-by-issue, here's how the candidates stand on immigration.

Deporting millions of people out of America, building a wall, banning people of Muslim faith, turning away refugees...These have all been prominent proposals and arguments in the presidential race. But as heated as the rhetoric surrounding immigration has been at the top of the ticket, Ted Strickland and Rob Portman have barely traded blows on the issue. During the second U.S. Senate debate in Columbus, Strickland tried to tie Portman to the controversial comments Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump has made about Mexicans and Muslims: “He’s supporting a man who has taken outrageous positions when it comes to immigration. A man who’s called Mexicans rapists, murderers. A man who wanted to ban an entire religious group from entering this country.”

Portman had delivered less-than-enthusiastic support for Trump when it became clear that Trump would be the party’s nominee. But before that debate October 17, Portman made the announcement that he will no longer endorse Trump and would write in Mike Pence’s name instead. But even when he did back Trump, Portman spoke out against his push to deport a mass amount of undocumented immigrants. “I’ve supported immigration reform but I have not supported deportations of millions of non-citizens who are here because I don’t think it’s practical and I don’t think it would be humane for a lot of those families.”

But Strickland has hit Portman over a bill that came through the Senate in 2013 that got the backing of Portman’s fellow Republican Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio. It would’ve created a path to legalization and eventually citizenship while increasing border security with more patrols. Strickland noted Portman voted against the bill. “I do believe there should be a pathway to citizenship -- I don’t want a two-tiered society but Senator Portman, as a senator, voted no, and we’ve had this problem drag on and on and on.”

But Portman said he thought the border security measures in that bill were too weak and that more enforcement needs to be added to workplace hiring. He said it was necessary to address what he called the "magnet" that draws people here illegally: “And that’s been one of the issues that I’ve focused on in Washington and do have some bipartisan support for that, Senator Chester and I offered an amendment to the very legislation that was talked about because we believe we outta tighten up enforcement.”

But at that debate in Columbus, Portman indicated he would break away from many in the Republican Party in suggesting there should be a way for some living in the U.S. without proper documentation to stay. “Frankly, I think for those who are here, have roots in the community, are willing to come forward and pay a fine and pay any back taxes and certainly if they have a criminal record they should be deported but the others should be able to have a path towards legalization.

Strickland noted that his plan and Portman’s plan seem to be similar, with one exception: "He indicated a pathway to legalization. I think that’s certainly the beginning but I would like to see a pathway to citizenship ultimately for these folks.”

The difference between legalization and citizenship has been a sticking point for a lot of immigration advocates. Some believe only providing legalization would create a subgroup of people who would be considered second-class.

As for Syrian refugees, Portman said he’s concerned about the ability of the US government to check everyone out, and says he’d rather see a no-fly zone so they can stay in Syria. Strickland, who said last fall that he thought a short-term pause in the acceptance of Syrian refugees was “reasonable”, now says the US should bring in those who are properly vetted, noting that the process can take up to three years.