Immigration, the federal budget and national defense were among the most discussed topics Wednesday (Aug. 20) at a town hall event held by U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, at the Blue Lion (formerly Second Street Live) in downtown Fort Smith.
The topic of immigration saw a frank discussion between Humberto Marquez, who described himself as the child of immigrants who was brought the United States when he was young and does not know life outside of the United States, and Womack.
"I study international business. I hope to bring more business here in Arkansas, I want to create more jobs for Americans. So you're limiting our potential, the 3,800 young people who are living here in Arkansas (who could benefit from immigration reform), you are limiting the potential of them," Marquez said of Womack's vote against a program known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, the program has been around since 2012.
"On June 15, 2012, the Secretary of Homeland Security announced that certain people who came to the United States as children and meet several guidelines may request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal. They are also eligible for work authorization. Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time. Deferred action does not provide lawful status," the website reads.
Womack explained to Marquez that his vote against DACA was more about standing up to what he sees as an overreach of executive power by President Barack Obama.
"I want you to look at that vote from purely the perspective of the concept of do we have an imperial government? Is the president of the United States such the supreme leader that if he doesn't agree with the laws passed, duly passed by both chambers and signed into law by any president, that he has the single ability to change those laws to fit whatever objectives that he might have – political or otherwise. I want you to look at that vote not in terms of whether it's against you, but whether it's a vote to send a message to the president that he does not have the executive power to just basically ignore the laws of the land of the United States of America that for too long have been ignored by the administrations. And not just his, but previous administrations, both parties are affected here,” Womack said.
Womack continued by saying he believes the issues brought up by undocumented teens and college-aged students, also known as dreamers, should be addressed. But the issue of immigration reform can only be addressed once the border is secured.
As he spoke on the topic, Dr. Paul Beran, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, spoke up and said based on his 45 years as a Texas resident, he did not believe the border would ever be secured. He said as long as individuals believe there would be economic opportunity in America, individuals would continue attempts to cross the border.
"These kids here, and the ones that fall into that category, we can argue about all day long. About President Obama, I don't disagree with the construct of your argument. I really don't disagree with that. But beyond how many angels can dance on the head of a pin kind of question, which I think that is essentially, what you're dealing with are people," Beran said, adding that he saw no reason Womack and Congress could not address the issue of what to do about dreamers and border security at the same time.
No one came out of the meeting with changed opinions, but as Beran told Womack after the meeting, "at least we're having the discussion."
When the topic of the budget was discussed, Womack said the only vote he regrets during his time in Congress was the vote that authorized the sequestration that forced massive budget cuts across all areas of government, including national defense.
"I voted for the Budget Control Act. Now, keep in mind, this is 2011. I'm (in my) second year in Congress. I'm still wet behind the ears, a little naive. Never in the wildest dreams did I think that the super committee (charged with finding budget cuts) would fail to get at least a substantial percentage of that $1.2 (trillion) in cuts. And I believed that in my heart and because I believed that in my heart, that rendered the sequestration piece of the law kind of moot, that it wouldn't be triggered. And if it did, it would be sort of inconsequential in size. But the super committee got nothing done. Zero. And that triggered sequestration and I had this great sinking feeling in my heart. I just voted for a bill… it's the one regret that I have," he said of the 2,700 votes that he has cast.
"(I regret it) not because I don't believe we need to pay our creditors and raise the debt ceiling, but because of the realization that the defense department was going to be the recipient of such drastic cuts in their budgets."