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Unsettled: Ohio State Sen. John Eklund On Immigration

We’ve been talking about the immigration debate this week, with various perspectives from Painesville, in Lake County. Nearly a quarter of Painesville’s population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, according to 2015 census numbers. It’s seen raids from immigration officials in the past, and under President Donald Trump, some in the community are unsure what comes next.

GOP State Senator John Eklund, represents parts of Lake, Geauga, and Portage counties. I spoke to him about the political climate surrounding immigration, and about Painesville’s robust Hispanic community:

JOHN EKLUND: “I think that speaks volumes to the nature of that community.  They have been a welcoming force, and I think many steps have been taken by many organizations from the NAACP, to the police department, to the state legislature, to try to help with some of the particularized issues that our Hispanic population face not just in Painesville but around the state.  Certainly something like the Community Connectors program that we have here in Ohio—I know there’s been some great thought and effort up in Painesville to try to use grants from that state program to address some of the particularized concerns of the Hispanic community there: English learning, extra help in school, employment, etc, etc. So I think that’s a good number, and I think the people of Painesville recognize that those folks make as much of a contribution to our community and are as entitled to our attention and our concern as any other portion of our community.”

GANZER: “President Trump, then candidate Trump, during the campaign used very strong language about immigration, as he did with many issues, and he’s continued that once he’s taken office.  What do you think that’s done in terms of the climate?”

EKLUND: “I would say that, my perception only, okay, is that there are some members of particularly our Hispanic communities that are probably feeling uncomfortable, and worried, which I can perfectly well understand.  Let’s face it, they have a life here, and they have a way of life, and taken—what I believe to be the wrong way—some of the pronouncements of candidate Trump could be viewed as threatening to them.  But I would hope that over time they would think long and hard about this because number one, if one is here legally they have nothing to fear or to be concerned about from Donald Trump or anyone else. If someone is here illegally, there is a pathway to becoming a citizen if circumstances are right. Now I must say there are other people, I’m sure, who listen to things that it doesn’t matter if it’s President Trump, or candidate Trump, or John Eklund, or anybody else, they’ll read into it something else.  They’ll read into it a ‘call to arms,’ figuratively speaking. And I think they should not take it that way, either. Look, immigration policy in the United States of America is a big issue, and if we don’t address it in a purposeful way, we’re going to continue to be divided by it.”

GANZER: “Do you think that kind of [immigration] reform is possible under this administration, or do you think we’re too polarized to even talk in that way?”

EKLUND: “Yes, I think it’s possible, and I think it’s possible because I have great faith in our immigrant communities.  I have great faith in the institutions and the structures of our government to do what is best overall for the country without being unnecessarily punitive, and in respecting everyone’s humanity in the process, you bet I think it can be done.”

GANZER: “Is there anything else you think the state can do and state lawmakers can do, even just to assure communities like Painesville that may have this perception of being targeted in a way?”

EKLUND: “There may be, but so often when the state or ‘the government’ at some upper level, supposedly, starts getting involved in those efforts, there’s a measure of its own form of coercion and mandates that go along with them.  I think the best thing we can do is lead by example, when we deal with statewide policy issues in Columbus, to demonstrate to people that yes there is a way to make public policy without screaming and yelling at each other and playing on this divisiveness that some people like to do.”

GANZER: “State Sen. John Eklund, thanks so much.”

EKLUND: “You’re very welcome, thanks so much for having me.”

Find more parts in this series here.

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