Last Updated Jan. 25 at 5:15 p.m. ET
- At the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting, a bipartisan group of local leaders urged the federal government to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
- Mayors expressed unity against several of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, including the plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.
- On Friday, President Trump announced a deal to end the federal government shutdown, for three weeks, while border security talks continue.
A bipartisan group of border-state mayors in Washington, D.C., this week urged the federal government to pass comprehensive immigration reform and criticized President Donald Trump’s focus on building a wall between the United States and Mexico.
"We need to protect our borders,” Republican Mayor Dee Margo of El Paso, Texas, said on Thursday during a panel discussion held just blocks from the White House at the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) winter meeting. “But this whole idea of focusing on a wall -- $1.3 billion or $5.7 billion -- is a bunch of malarkey. That's not dealing with the issue.”
"The only real wall is between the president and Congress,” added Democratic Mayor Tim Keller of Albuquerque, N.M., who spoke alongside Margo on the panel.
A day after the mayors discussed immigration on Thursday, Trump announced a temporary end to the federal government shutdown, which is now the longest in U.S. history. He and congressional leaders have agreed to reopen the government for three weeks while discussions about his demands for border wall money continue. If a "fair deal" is not struck by Feb. 15, The Washington Post reports that Trump said the government could shut down again.
The co-chairs of USCM’s immigration reform task force -- Republican John Giles of Mesa, Ariz., and Democrat Jorge Elorza of Providence, R.I. -- also appeared at this week’s conference. Unlike their federal counterparts, they’re united on a host of immigration issues, including their opposition to the Trump administration’s plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.
Last year, Providence County hosted the nation’s only test run for that upcoming census, without the citizenship question, and Elorza says it revealed that many undocumented immigrants are fearful of participating -- even if the citizenship question isn't included. It’s a fear he understands intimately, having grown up with parents who were once undocumented and leery of signing him up for extracurricular activities outside of school.
“You just never knew, if you gave away your information, where that was going to be used,” he says.
But Elorza stresses that the undocumented must be counted, along with immigrant communities generally. The census count factors into how much political representation and federal funding is given to state and local governments. He’s working to reassure his residents that they can trust his government, even if they’re wary of the Trump administration's immigration policies.
"There would be nothing [former Trump advisor] Steve Bannon would want more than a systematic undercount of our communities,” said Vanita Gupta, the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, during a separate panel on Thursday.
Despite the united front they presented, the nation’s mayors are divided on some immigration stances.
GOP Mayor Giles is open to the idea of a border wall, which has become anathema to many Democrats, saying it “can certainly be part of a comprehensive security program.” Elorza, meanwhile, favors abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) altogether -- hardly a consensus view even among his fellow Democrats.
"ICE as an institution has been corrupted so far to its core, as demonstrated by the policy of separating children from their parents, that I do believe it should be abolished, and we should build something up in its stead,” said Elorza.
Still, the mayors cast themselves as pragmatic problem-solvers, saying they would be able to work out solutions that have eluded the White House and Congress.
"There are three main political parties in the United States: Republicans, Democrats and mayors," Elorza says. "If mayors were calling the shots, you would get comprehensive immigration reform in a day."
Margo, the Republican who leads El Paso, was particularly exasperated as he told his panel that America needs to accept the truth: The vast majority of undocumented immigrants are here to stay.
“If everybody's all concerned, irrespective of party, that, if they become legal citizens, they'll vote a certain way, then just vet 'em and give 'em green cards,” he said. “At least they can pay taxes without false social security numbers and be contributing citizens. I'm sorry. It's here. It's over. The egg's been broken. Let's deal with it."