Rep. Mike Gallagher visits students
By Scott Bellile
Bilingual students expressed curiosity in how government works and anxiety over what the president’s policies could mean for immigrants during a congressman’s visit to New London Middle School.
U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, a first-term Republican representing the Eighth District, spoke with Lori Menning’s English Language Learners class in the NLMS library on Thursday, Jan. 4.
“Students were able to ask questions about his beliefs and feelings on various topics and issues that impact sometimes their families directly, and students did a great job,” Superintendent Dennis Krueger told the New London School Board at a meeting Monday, Jan. 8. “They were very professional and well behaved and Rep. Gallagher looks forward to returning at some point in time.”
Gallagher shared his story of how he as a political outsider became involved in politics before opening the floor to students. Students in grades five through eight asked questions and told their own emotional stories about being bilingual in America.
A sixth-grade student from Mexico told Gallagher through a translator that she and her brother arrived to the U.S. just three weeks earlier to live with grandparents. Her parents do not have legal immigration status so it is hard for her family to be together, she tearfully explained.
The girl then asked him his views on President Donald Trump and the proposed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act.
Gallagher said no one wants to see the student live with uncertainty or far from her family.
“Your story really illustrates how difficult this problem is right now because we all know we have an immigration system that creates terrible, terrible dilemmas like the one you and your family are facing,” Gallagher said, “and I can’t imagine what that’s like to have to live with every single day and I have enormous sympathy for that. … I think everyone is committed to finding a way to fix this problem. Now it’s going to be difficult, but we all know that we can’t let the status quo continue because otherwise we’re going to see stories like yours over and over again.”
Gallagher said Congress intends to have a legislative solution by March that could fix what he believes are problems created by the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy.
Later on, another concerned student again asked Gallagher how he will help the so-called Dreamers.
“Like I said, we’re debating the fix right now,” Gallagher said. “The bill that’s under consideration would allow for a five-year probationary period for the Dreamers provided they meet certain requirements that allow them to stay going forward.
“I will say obviously I can’t promise you 100 percent about where we’re going to land, but I do think people are committed to fixing this issue and there’s been discussions at the White House this week about fixing this issue as well,” Gallagher said.
The process of passing a bill through Congress, particularly Senate, is difficult during a time when polarized politicians are struggling to compromise and “we’re just kind of yelling at each other,” he added.
An eighth-grader told Gallagher that beginning in kindergarten she taught English to her Spanish-speaking household. She does not feel fluent in either language, which can make life confusing.
Gallagher assured her that if she continues progressing in both languages, she will have a valuable life skill with many career options. He spoke from experience, learning Arabic in college and later using it when he served in the Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A seventh grade student became choked up as she explained her parents’ working situation. Her mother, who is separated from her father, injured her spine while working on a farm and can no longer work. Her father has two jobs to make ends meet.
Gallagher told the girl many people are struggling like her family. He said modernizing social safety net programs that were designed in the 1960s could offer disabled workers better opportunities.
A student asked Gallagher how he feels about Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S. and Mexico border.
Gallagher said any country should protect its borders. When he worked in the Drug Enforcement Administration, he saw firsthand that the southern border is not secure. The DEA had less than 50 percent operational control of the border, he said.
Portions of the border that are disrupted by canyons or rivers should be monitored by technology or additional patrolpersons instead of a 20-foot-high concrete wall, he said.
Gallagher said members of Congress could spend less time fundraising for their next campaigns and more time securing the border or fixing DACA if campaign finance were reformed.
He said he hopes reform will come through a mixture of technology and, eventually, today’s youth taking over Congress with new ideas.
Cheaper political campaigns would in turn encourage more diverse candidates to run for office, he added.
Although NLMS students are not old enough to vote yet, he encouraged students to prepare for their futures by going to class, spending hours in library books rather than on social media, and keeping informed for the day when they can hit the polls.
Menning, the school district’s bilingual coordinator, said advocacy pays off when school districts can work with their congressperson to follow up with issues on Capitol Hill.
The school district’s bilingual program also built past relationships with Gallagher’s predecessor, Reid Ribble, who visited New London High School.
Menning said she thinks highly of her students and she was proud Gallagher met his constituents’ children firsthand to learning about important issues.