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Rep. Greg Walden listens at Cascade Locks Port pavilion to immigration advocate Kathy Mariah Carlson. With her is Janet Hamada. The two women spent weeks in early 2018 at the Mexico border.

Immigration loomed large at the town hall convened July 3 in Cascade Locks by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, a Hood River Republican whose Second District comprises most of eastern Oregon, including Hood River County.

Several speakers, including Kathy Mariah Carlson of Hood River, called on Walden to take renewed action regarding the immigration crisis at the Mexico border.

Walden announced recent, near- unanimous passage of legislation that will provide funding to immigrant retention facilities for food and other needs.

Hood River News’ coverage of the town hall started with a photo caption in the July 6 edition that should have stated that the legislation received $1.6 billion in funding.

“We‘re are a country of immigrants, and we embrace more refugees than any other country in the world, and we have more than a million people who followed the rules and waited in line to get their citizenship. That was just last year,” Walden said. (One audience member suggested the Congressman do a fact check on refugee admittance, saying it had dropped to 50,000 last year.)

“We have an over-taxed system and a broken asylum system and a very porous border,” Walden said. “If we had (more) border patrol, we could have a humanitarian way to work with people to let them come through our borders.”

Carlson asked, “Would you still be kidnapping kids?” Referring to the system of separating young children and teens from their families.

“We shouldn’t be kidnapping kids,” Walden acknowledged. “We should stop it.”

Carlson challenged him, pointing out that relief is needed immediately, and the legislation won’t provide it for six months. Additionally, she said, “We see high government officials ignoring government subpoenas. We have to obey the law and so do these babies. But all these officials seem to be above the law.”

Walden said, “I am not a border agent and I am not a judge or jury.  I do public policy and the policy I voted for would make it illegal to separate kids from parents. Those kids should never have been separated from their parents. I feel very strongly about that. And I care about these kids. I do. And I voted that way. It did not end up in law, but we are continuing our efforts to take care of these kids.

“I’m there. I’d vote on it tomorrow if I had the chance,” Walden replied. “We’re not that far away from each other on this,” he said.

Carlson said, “You need to get it in law,” and called on him to make another visit to the border.

“I’ve been to the border,” Walden said (July 2018).

Another speaker brought up the recent revelations of widespread hateful comments against immigrants found on “secret” Facebook accounts, asserting that close to half the 20,000 Border Patrol employees had participated, saying, “It is clear to me there is institutional racism occurring on the border. We need to do more than just vote. You say you voted, but you’re a leader, and represent everyone in this room. What are you doing to rid institutional racism in hiring border agents?”

Walden called for “immediate firing” of border agents who can be shown to be violating federal policy.

“There is no room for racism in our country...” Walden said.

The speaker countered, “We all carry some form of implicit racism. It is impossible not to have it, but what type of training is going on with border patrol to address this implicit bias? As a leader, I am not asking you to not only vote but to advocate, to push legislation through.”

Walden said, “That’s what voting is, and legislation, so I agree with you, I strongly supported this package. It’s why I voted to stop separation at the border, why I voted for border security, it’s why I voted for additional control over the border, and why I supported additional review of these cases. Waiting years for a case to be resolved is not justice.”

He said legislation includes judicial teams to review these cases, asking, “Isn’t that what you’re asking for?...”

“No — I am asking you to address the bias. What is being done?”

Walden replied, “They should be weeded out. They have a code, and they should not be involved in the agency. If they are violating that, they should not be in the service.”

Walden added that humanitarian issues at the border are largely due to lack of funding.  “If you care about overcrowding you have to pay for more facilities.”

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