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Candidates for 71st state house seat explain positions on issues affecting immigrants

Candidates for 71st state house seat explain positions on issues affecting immigrants

Incumbent Democrat Rep. Witwer meets Green party Challenger McCuiston in the 20/20 People's Vision Candidate Forum

Two of the three candidates vying to represent the state’s 71st district, which includes Delta Township and other municipalities West of Lansing, appeared online Wednesday in the 20/20 People's Vision Candidate Forum. The incumbent Democratic candidate, Rep. Angela Witwer, flipped the district in 2018 by knocking on 42,000 voters’ doors. She has a marketing business in Lansing and has 2 children and 4 grandchildren. Her Green Party opponent, Dalton McCuiston is a graduate of Olivet College where he held 14 elected positions in student government. The Republican, Gina Johnson was invited but could not attend due to scheduling conflicts.

Elva Reyes with the Labor Council for Latin-American Advancement wanted to know what the candidates would or have done to protect farmworkers from the spread of the Covid-19. 

Witwer has been actively involved in Lt. Gilchrist’s racial disparities group on Covid. She credits the Governor’s efforts for flattening the curve and reducing the disproportionate impact the disease has had on communities of color. Witwer says the agricultural committee that she is on has “...been talking about workers on farms and how to prevent it and what we can do better to help people on the farms so they don’t get sick and hospitalized.”

McCuiston, whose Mother and siblings contracted the virus, believes all farmworkers should be monetarily reimbursed for not being able to work regardless of immigration status. “It’s important to take care of it by taking care of the body and that needs to be the main thing that our health people need to… uh, yeah.”

Patrica Moreno wanted to know what the candidates would do to narrow the Digital divide in rural communities. Impacts migrant workers. She said the undocumented children of migrant workers are not protected by child labor laws and fears a lack of access to educational opportunities will impact their future. 

“Gov. Whitmer signed into the budget the ‘going pro’ & ‘Reconnect’ programs. These are programs to help kids to be able to get their 2-year degrees so they can get out of those situations,” Witwer said. “A lot of it is communicating it to these different populations so people know about it and can take advantage of these things and I think we are really poor at communicating. We need to be better at that.”

McCuiston said he would meet with migrant communities to better understand their situation. When pressed, he pledged to direct funds “I would take all the avenues to make sure they get the money.”

The subject of driver’s licenses came up several times. Paul Brun asked the candidates where they stood on making them available to all residents regardless of their immigration status.

”A driver’s license is something that people look forward to getting in their lifetime,” said McCuiston. “It’s another milestone in their lives that they would love to accomplish.” He also said it’s an important piece of ID all residents need. 

”This is flat out a public safety issue,” said Witwer. “People are going to drive whether they’re undocumented or not... It would be much safer for everyone if we knew that people knew how to drive and that they had drivers’ licenses.” Witwer said she helped pass insurance reforms and think it’s important that everyone drives is insured and driver’s licenses would help do that.

Oscar Castaneda of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation has been involved in this fight for 7 years. He says the bill to make it happen already exists but hasn’t even made its way to committee. 

“As a representative, I would hold all of these people accountable for advancing these bills,” said McCuiston. “It’s important that every single voice is heard.”  He would like to hold town hall meetings to energize the issue. 

Witwer sees partisanship as the roadblock “It is a Republican House and a Republican Senate. The speaker of the house and the senate majority leader, they control everything that goes on,” she said. “We need to work to flip the house. The house must flip. So that we have a balance in government and it’s not a Republican house and senate. Work very hard to get out the vote. We are 4 seats shy of flipping the house.” 

Castaneda says traffic violations are the leading cause of immigrants ending up in ICE detention. “How do you make a better relationship between police and immigrant communities?”

Witwer said she had just spoken with Eaton county sheriff who told her his deputies follow Lansing's lead and don’t get involved in immigration issues. “I’m a fan of community policing and having a police officer that the community knows and can go to and develop a relationship with.” Witwer would like to see greater use of social workers, drug treatment professionals instead of law enforcement when appropriate.

McCuiston would like to start a community relations program. He also would like to revisit law enforcement funding priorities. “I feel like we have an extremely high police budget in Lansing... A lot of that money could be reallocated and do a lot of things to build the community.”

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