Families rally for border enforcement, as Trump eases wall demands

Mary Ann Mendoza founded Angel Families after her son, a Mesa police officer, was killed by a drunken driver who was in the country illegally. Members of the group rallied Friday on Capitol Hill to demand stiffer immigration laws. (Photo by Daniel Perle/Cronkite News)

Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he was not fazed by reports that President Donald Trump may wait until after the elections to press for border wall funding, saying, “We can wait a couple months more.” (Photo by Daniel Perle/Cronkite News)

Angel Families displayed photos of loved ones who were victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. Experts say immigrants – particularly undocumented immigrants – are less likely to commit crime than native-born citizens, but Angel Families disagree. (Photo by Daniel Perle/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – One day after President Donald Trump stepped back from demands for border wall funding in the next budget, family members of people killed by undocumented immigrants rallied Friday to demand tougher enforcement of immigration laws.

The “Angel Families” rally on the Capitol grounds was held to convince Washington that illegal immigration “is a problem,” said Mary Ann Mendoza, who founded the group after her son was killed by a drunken and drugged driver who was in this county illegally.

“We do not have an agenda, we don’t have a reason to lie, I’m not telling you I’m affiliated with either party I’m telling you as your fellow American that this is a problem,” Mendoza told dozens of family members, lawmakers and advocates.

Even though the group is not affiliated with either party, support for Trump ran high at the event Friday. Among those in attendance was former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who repeated earlier statements that Trump is his hero.

That enthusiasm did not appear to be dimmed by Trump statements to reporters Thursday night and again Friday morning that he was backing off an earlier threat to shut down the government if there was not funding for a border wall in the next budget. The president said he is willing to hold off on the issue until after the November elections.

“There are a lot of politicians that I like and respect and are with me all the way that would rather not do it because they have races, they’re doing well, they’re up,” Trump told reporters Friday, according to a White House pool report. “The way they look at it, might be good, might be bad.”

But he did not ease up on his insistence that a wall be built, saying he is considering using military funds for the wall if necessary.

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“We have two options – we have military, we have Homeland Security,” Trump said. “I’d rather get it through politically. If we don’t, I’m looking at that option very seriously.”

Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, said while he sympathizes with any family’s grief, an enforcement-only approach will not work. Kerwin said any immigration reform needs to keep in mind both the business need for foreign workers here as well as the undocumented people who have been living in the country long-term.

“The issue is we need to legalize and rationalize our immigration system,” Kerwin said, adding that undocumented immigrants are actually less likely to commit crime than native-born citizens.

But those at the Angel Families rally disagreed, with Mendoza saying it’s not a matter of if but when an undocumented immigrant commits a crime against a U.S. citizen.

Arpaio said illegal immigration is a problem, but the amount of transborder drug trafficking is an even bigger one.

Arpaio said he did not intend to use the families’ grief for political purposes, but had to “get the politicians to do something.” But he was “disappointed” that the family of Mollie Tibbetts, who police say was murdered by an undocumented immigrant, have said they do not want her death to be used for political ends.

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, was one of several House Republicans at the event Friday pushing a variety of get-tough immigration bills. He talked about his own bill, which calls for creating a separate fund for the proposed border wall, but said House leaders have taken action to delay it by assigning it to seven different committees for review.

Biggs called Trump’s decision to not push forward on immigration legislation, including his own bill, a “mistake.”

“The leadership has cooled down,” Biggs said. “If we had done the wall before the midterms, it would have helped, not hurt.”

But Arpaio was not fazed by the move.

“We waited all these years, we can wait a couple months more,” he said. “Maybe he (Trump) has a game plan to go after these guys or see who’s going to get elected that will support him, so it makes sense.”