Outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan called on Congress to provide financial aid to illegal immigrant children.
“We have to invest more heavily in early childhood education. We have to make sure we give financial aid to our undocumented students and the fact that as a nation we have yet to do that is a travesty,” Duncan said at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute conference in Washington.
“As a nation I just think what we are doing is absolutely backwards. We cut off our nose to spite our face. Think of young people who this is their country that they have grown up in, the country they love, they have worked hard, they have gotten great grades, they’ve been community leaders, they’ve contributed and the fact that we don’t give them the chance to go to college makes no sense whatsoever,” he added.
Duncan pointed out that a number of states have “stepped up” to provide in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants and other private foundations are providing some assistance as well.
“But we are nowhere near where we need to be and as a nation we have to break through,” he said.
Duncan also called on Congress to tackle the issue of gun control given the recent shooting in Oregon.
“There’s a level that our nation has accepted that simply isn’t accepted in Australia and Canada and England and Japan and other countries. They just don’t accept it and their children grow up with a much greater sense of security,” he said.
Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley said the federal government must take care of the minors who cross the border illegally.
“We must not turn our backs. We must not turn them away,” he said.
O’Malley denounced Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s position on illegal immigration.
“I don’t find it funny. I don’t find it entertaining. I find it harmful to the spirit of America,” he said.
O’Malley said Trump has “infected” the entire Republican field of candidates.
“They want to be like him,” he said.
Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R), a GOP presidential candidate, also said he rejects Trump’s proposal to deport illegal immigrants.
“I do not believe mass deportation is the answer,” he said. “While Republicans don’t hate people who come to this country and particularly don’t hate people in the Latino community, the way we talk to people in this country matters. The tone that we give matters.”
Gilmore vowed to remove illegal immigrants that commit crimes inside the U.S.
“No automatic amnesty for citizenship,” he said. “Get those who commit crimes no matter where they come from or who they are off the streets but with reason and compassion.”
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told the audience that DHS does not have the resources to prosecute “every single person who is apprehended” at the southwest border.
Johnson also said there is a humanitarian aspect to dealing with the minors that cross the border. He explained that minors apprehended at the border are turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services, which places them with a family member living in the U.S. legally or illegally.
“You could put a lot of my people on the border. The governor of Texas can put a lot of his people on the border but that doesn’t address the underlying situation in these three countries and that’s what we have to make an investment in,” he said, referring to Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who appeared on stage with Johnson, said Syrian refugees should not be treated any different than migrants who enter the U.S. illegally. He added that the federal government should focus on removing illegal immigrants who commit crimes in the U.S.
“There are bad people in our neighborhoods. There are drug dealers, there are gangbangers, there are rapists, there are murderers and the greatest impact they have is on the quality of life of the people in our neighborhoods. And we need to make sure we separate the good people, the really good hardworking people, from the ones that are doing ill in this country,” Gutierrez said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) gave an extensive address, noting that “what we are trying very, very hard to do – you are going to see us moving very aggressively in that area – is introduce myself to the Latino community.”
“I will fight for every vote I can get in the Latino community,” the presidential candidate vowed.
“I think the Latino community is obviously deeply concerned about comprehensive immigration reform and a path toward citizenship is something I strongly support,” Sanders said. “I think the Latino community is outraged over some of the racist attacks that have been made against some Latino groups and that is unacceptable.”