Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young likened the caravan of Central American migrants moving toward the U.S. border to an invasion during a debate in Alaska’s U.S. House race.
Immigration was one of the hot-button issues in Friday night’s debate with independent Alyse Galvin, along with climate change and charged political rhetoric. The debate, held in Anchorage, was aired across the state.
In response to a question about the migrants, Young said President Donald Trump is right: “This is an invasion,” he said.
Young said Congress hasn’t addressed immigration laws or built a wall on the Mexico border.
“But we have to recognize, this is a challenge to the people of the United States, and we’d better accept that challenge and say, You can’t be in the United States unless you’re legal,” he said. ” … This is about America.”
He said he’s not sure what will happen when the migrants reach the border. When they do, he said, it will be the “big, big enchilada.”
Young, who has a history of off-the-cuff or off-color comments, was asked if his use of that term was intentional. He said it was not. It’s another way of saying “the big one,” he said.
But Galvin used the moment to bring up Young’s use of a slur, years ago, in referring to migrant workers for which Young previously apologized.
Many of the migrants in the caravan are from Honduras, where poverty, gangs and violence are factors that cause many to leave.
Galvin said it’s important to reinforce the process in place for those truly seeking asylum. She said she would work toward a “comprehensive” immigration policy.
She did not directly answer whether a border wall should be built, saying work should be done first on “reinforcing our legal process that we have.”
Young said a wall has to be built unless there are better ideas. He said Congress needs to tackle immigration policy.
Throughout the debate, Young was more direct in his responses than Galvin, and he pointed out when he did not hear an answer from her.
The two differed on whether climate change is human-caused. Galvin said she believes it is tied to human activity. Young said he doesn’t believe that. He said climate change is being used “as an instrument to frighten people.”
Galvin said, as a representative, she would model civility and work toward solutions. Young said divisiveness cannot be solved by one person and reading the Bible would be helpful.
Young said he would not support impeaching Trump. Galvin said she wants to see the results of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation before making any sort of judgment on impeachment.
Young, 85, has held Alaska’s lone House seat since 1973. He is the longest-serving current member, earning the moniker “dean” of the House.
Young has touted his seniority and effectiveness. But Galvin counters that Alaskans are ready for a change.
Galvin is an education advocate who won the Democratic primary to challenge Young. If she is successful in the Nov. 6 election, she would be the first woman to represent Alaska in the House.
A forum last week between Young and Galvin at the Alaska Federation of Natives conference ended on an odd note. Video shows Galvin recoiling and saying, “That hurts,” as Young shakes her hand. He said he was sorry.
Galvin later called it a “cheap, bully stunt,” but said she wanted to focus on more substantive issues.
Young spokeswoman Murphy McCollough said by text that that was Young’s normal handshake and he did not intend to cause Galvin any pain.
• Becky Bohrer is a reporter for the Associated Press.