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Border security and federal migration law have been a point of concern since 2016 when then-candidate Donald Trump began calling for construction of a southern border wall paid for by Mexico. Not surprisingly, Montana’s U.S. House candidates, Democrat Kathleen Williams and incumbent Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte have different views regarding the wall, for which U.S. taxpayers will pay billions of dollars.

Both candidates agree that border security must be improved. They answered questions about the subject this weekend for Lee Montana Newspapers.

What does the border security plan you support look like. Is it a solid wall from Texas to the California coast? Is it open borders?

Williams: “Despite my opponent’s misleading ads saying the opposite, I have consistently stated that we need strong borders that function for tourism and trade and that stop illegal trafficking of humans, drugs and weapons.

This means a strong combination of boots on the ground, portions of a physical border, as well as use of surveillance technology that monitors areas where a wall is not practical. The Rio Grande River traces much of our southern border and a wall is not a viable option there. Use of surveillance drones and border control agents to provide rapid response to any illegal crossings will help provide a practical and cost-effective system. In fact, a Republican congressman from a border district in Texas is advocating for use of technology as a strong element of border security, rather than a continuous wall.

We also need a functioning guest worker program for our agricultural (and possibly tourism) sector(s). And we need to ensure some compassion in our immigration policy with legal and effective paths for those truly seeking asylum from violence and persecution.

Border agents and immigration courts must have the resources and capacity to respond to these requests in a timely and secure manner. Unfortunately, Congressman Gianforte voted in September against funding for the Department of Homeland Security including border control and ICE agents. Giving boots on the ground the resources they need to patrol the border and detain illegal immigrants is vital, and his vote to jeopardize those resources threatens our security and safety.”

Gianforte: “America’s borders have been too open for too long. Drug cartels, dangerous gangs and human traffickers exploit our weak borders and bring crime to our communities. Earlier this year, I voted for immigration reforms that would begin the process of securing the border, building the wall, fixing our broken immigration system, and ending the practice of separating children from their parents. I also voted twice to provide $25 billion for the construction of a physical barrier along the southern border.

I’ve worked to crack down on sanctuary cities that refuse to enforce federal immigration laws and to provide law enforcement officials with the tools they need to combat dangerous transnational gangs like MS-13.

President Trump has been a leader on immigration reform, and I will continue standing with him as we work to secure the border. We must stop those who profit from importing Mexican meth and crime into our Montana communities.”

The federal government separated more than 2,500 migrant children from their families last spring. The ACLU reported last month that 249 of those kids are still parentless. Where do you stand on child separation? How you would approach this issue. Would you retool or abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement?

Williams: “I oppose the separation of children from their families, regardless of how the family crossed the border. Stories of infants and toddlers appearing by themselves in court were heartbreaking, and such prolonged separation can lead to long-term developmental health effects. Like under previous administrations, measures should have been taken to keep children with their families as immigration cases were reviewed.

I support ICE and our border control agents despite Congressman Gianforte continuing to assert otherwise. Anyone who commits a crime should go to jail and we need to support our ICE and border agents with the resources they need. I oppose efforts and resolutions by Democrats in Washington to abolish ICE. As your representative I will be an independent voice serving the people of Montana. I’ll review how ICE is working and look to see if there are ways it can work more efficiently and effectively to complete its mission stop illegal immigration.”

Gianforte: “It’s troubling that any child is separated from his or her parents. Current law prevents parents and children from being together in detention, and it must be changed. I have voted twice to end the practice of separation and keep families together.

Ultimately, we wouldn’t have this issue if our borders were secure. I have voted twice on legislation to fix our broken immigration system and secure our borders. Law enforcement officials, including ICE agents, are doing the best they can under challenging circumstances. They work every day to protect our country and communities. Last year, they seized nearly a million pounds of illegal drugs and arrested more than 127,000 criminal aliens who were charged with drug crimes, gang-related activity, sexual assault, kidnapping and murder.

Some on the left have called for abolishing ICE. That is a reckless idea that flies in the face of the rule of law. I stand with law enforcement and strongly oppose abolishing ICE.

Unfortunately, Kathleen Williams has voted against enforcing federal immigration laws. In 2013, Kathleen Williams voted to allow Montana cities and counties to obstruct federal agencies, like ICE, from enforcing federal immigration laws. In 2011, Kathleen Williams voted in favor of sanctuary cities.

President Trump is asking after the election for $5 billion from U.S. taxpayers to fund a southern border wall. Do you support this expense? Would you impose any conditions, given that as a presidential candidate, Trump repeatedly assured Americans they wouldn't have to pay for the wall?

Williams: “I question many of the fiscal decisions this Congress and Administration are making. The tax giveaway Congressman Gianforte supported ballooned our deficit by nearly $2 trillion after his leaders suggested cuts to Medicare and Social Security – investments Americans have made. A higher deficit further threatens those programs. We are now seeing spending on a “bailout” for agricultural producers, which in many cases won’t make up for short-term losses, and never heal the long-term damage to our export markets. $5 billion for a wall is also not the most cost-effective nor efficient means to advance border security.

Congressman Gianforte and this Congress have failed us with their lack of leadership on immigration issues and more. We need to focus on enforcing existing immigration laws and providing the resources to effectively carry out those laws instead of arguing over who’s going to pay for a wall that could be done at less cost and more effectively by incorporating modern technology.”

Gianforte: “Our borders have been too open for too long, and violent criminals who seek to do us harm and threaten our communities have exploited our open borders.

I support President Trump’s efforts to secure our border by building a wall. I have voted twice to provide $25 billion to fund the construction of a physical barrier along the southern border of the United States, as the president requested.

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Our southern border covers about 2,000 miles of diverse terrain, and I support funding a border wall as well as other effective measures to secure our border, including technology, infrastructure, and law enforcement and border agents.

Unfortunately, Kathleen Williams has dismissed the president’s plan to secure the border as “impractical.” What’s impractical and reckless is leaving our borders open, continuing to expose our communities to illegal drugs and crime.”

There are Montana businesses that depend on migrant workers. The wool industry, for example, relies almost exclusively on Peruvian migrants to jobs Montanans won't do. Those businesses have struggled with federal red tape under the migration policy. What are you doing for these businesses?

Williams: “On the campaign trail, I have always said that America’s immigration policy should include a functioning guest worker program for our agricultural sector as well as potentially our tourism sector. The paperwork needs to be reduced for the H-1B and H-2B visas, past housing requirements reviewed, and illegal workers directed to this opportunity which allows them to work in the US, but return to their home country seasonally.

Having had the honor of working with farmers and ranchers across Montana and the West, I know how the one-size fits all model doesn’t work for many including the above Peruvian sheep herders who are willing to be out on the land for long periods. Mandatory housing details don’t work for them, nor do they need to. And we need to ensure we are enforcing our laws. A rancher I recently spoke with has had both guest workers and workers he thought were legal but had to fire an employee because of illegal documents. Cherry growers in the Flathead had trouble finding pickers this year. To ensure we can bring these workers into the country, we also need to make sure security measures are enforced to make sure guest worker visas are not abused. Safety and security must be the priority.

Congressman Gianforte repeatedly talks about other politicians and their positions, rather than accurately reflecting mine. I’ll be an independent voice for Montana and not afraid to take on complex issues to work toward lasting solutions.”

Gianforte: “As we work to fix our broken immigration system, we must address both illegal immigration and ensure the needs of Montana’s farmers and ranchers are met. As Congress has worked on immigration reform, I’ve been working with Montana’s ag producers and leaders. They’ve consistently told me they need a guestworker program that works for them.

I’m working on a bipartisan solution to ensure farmers and ranchers have access to a reliable workforce. If not enough Americans can fill jobs, farmers and ranchers must be able to fill the positions and keep their operations going.

As important as it is to ensure our ag producers have a reliable workforce, it’s just as critical that we address illegal immigration. The bill also requires E-Verify for employers to ensure workers are in the United States legally. The legislation protects smaller operations by implementing the E-Verity requirement with larger employers first, then phasing it in for small businesses and agricultural employers.

Unfortunately, Kathleen Williams in 2011 voted against making it illegal to employ illegal immigrants in Montana.”

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Agriculture and Politics Reporter

Politics and agriculture reporter for The Billings Gazette.