From dairy farms to apple orchards to universities to hospitals, many in the North Country rely on immigration — but the policies that affect their lives are decided not here, but in Washington. And the North Country will be represented in that decision-making process in Washington by one of three women who are currently running for Congress.
The Watertown Daily Times spoke with the three candidates for the 21st Congressional District — Democrat Tedra Cobb, Green Party candidate Lynn Kahn and Republican incumbent Elise Stefanik.
Cobb said she is focused on an immigration system that helps North Country farmers and business while fulfilling obligations to young undocumented immigrants.
“For me, the driving issue here is what is fair,” she said. “It has become a hot button issue — and both parties have failed.”
Stefanik has often accused her fellow congressional representatives of “kicking the can down the road on immigration.”
She said she remains hopeful Congress will act on the issues that affect her district, particularly agricultural workers.
The current H-2A guest worker visa covers only seasonal work, while dairy requires year-round help.
Stefanik supports the H-2C visa, a replacement for H-2A that would have an 18-month limit for seasonal work and a 36-month limit for nonseasonal work, with “touchback” provisions outside the United States after the visa expires before workers would be eligible for a new one.
Kahn thinks the United States is failing immigrants to whom it has made promises.
“I strongly support DACA,” she said.
Lack of workers in the dairy industry is less of an issue than the low price of milk, she said, but she sees the labor shortage in tourism and hospitality.
“It’s those small cafes and hotels,” she said. “There’s a lot of help wanted signs in the 21st District.”
Kahn also said better distinctions should be made between the kinds of immigrants trying to cross the southern border.
“I think it’s important to make a distinction between people who are violent cartel members and people who are seeking asylum,” she said. “I would like to see our leaders stop using racist, mean-spirited, blaming language.”
“I’m not in favor of a wall,” Cobb said. “I’m in favor of a bridge to Canada.”
Cobb wants cross-border travel with Canada to be easier, with some kind of favored-traveler status and better infrastructure.
“Look at Plattsburgh as a perfect example — signs are in French and English now,” Cobb said. “We want to look at economic opportunity.”
Stefanik is also concerned with the Canadian border.
“Obviously, this district is closely tied to and connected to the northern border,” she said.
Stefanik touted her success on passing a preclearance program for people crossing the northern border to make commerce and travel easier. But it is not immigration or enforcement that most concerns her.
“The biggest issue on the northern border is trade,” she said.
Court orders have ended separation of children from parents charged with crossing the border illegally, but solutions for families that cross the border illegally are complicated by the Flores settlement. This legally binding 1997 consent decree prevents children from being held in immigration detention for more than a few days.
Asked if Congress can overrule the Flores settlement to hold families together in detention centers, something Stefanik proposed over the summer, she said Congress should start with establishing what the law is.
Cobb said there should be more opportunity for undocumented people already in the country to regularize their status — especially for those brought here as minors and given status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“We need a clean Dream Act that would create a path to citizenship without using young immigrants as a bargaining chip,” Cobb said.
Kahn opposes family separation for any reason, although she said it may sometimes be necessary to detain families together.
“Never, never separate children — it’s just unethical,” she said.
Kahn said Congress should start by finalizing DACA and clarifying the path to citizenship for immigrants in the military.
“Those who have been here and have jobs ... there should be a path to citizenship,” she said.
Stefanik said Congress needs to take a more active role in determining levels of refugee resettlement — last month, President Donald Trump announced no more than 45,000 refugees would be resettled next year, less than half of the highest resettlement year authorized under President Barack Obama.
“When the administration takes these actions, they should consult with Congress,” Stefanik said. “We fund these projects.”
Stefanik declined to say how many refugees she thought should be resettled, and said there should be proper vetting but acknowledged the United Nations resettlement vetting process was sufficient.
Asked about a broader solution for the millions of undocumented immigrants who do not fall under DACA, Stefanik reiterated her focus on a few issues — like DACA, family separation, and temporary worker visa reform — that she sees as key to the district and the country.
Cobb does not advocate abolishing Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
“ICE on the northern border protects us from drugs and human trafficking,” Cobb said. “I am not a proponent of abolishing ICE; what I am in favor of is changing the policy.”
“States and Congress need to work together,” she said. “We need to hold hearings ... that’s what good governance is.”
When officers overstep their boundaries, Cobb said, that is an issue concerning the individuals; when they implement programs like family separation, that is an issue with the policy from Washington. Either way, it is not the agency that is at fault.
Kahn said she generally agrees with Cobb on ICE.
“There’s a difference between an agency and a policy,” she said. “Change the policy.”
She sees international crises as a result of failed foreign policy.
“The worldwide refugee crises and settling refugees in the U.S, is intertwined with failed U.S. military policy,” she said. “Stop dropping bombs ... work with other governments to do the work that needs to happen.”
All the reforms Stefanik was hoping Congress would pass over the summer were voted down. She remains optimistic, however.
“I do think it’s possible to come to a bipartisan consensus,” she said.
Stefanik said a good immigration bill would need to provide border security funding, differentiate the southern and northern border policies, reform the guest worker visa program, provide legislation confirming the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program and end family separations at the border.
The legislation could be passed all at once or piece by piece, she said — for example, she has supported a standalone three-page bill, introduced by Michigan Rep. Bill Huizenga, to end family separation.
“I think we need to get that bill through Congress,” she said.
Cobb believes in providing identification for people who are undocumented but are working in this country.
“For the people who have been living here and working here, they should have a driver’s license,” she said.
She also proposed a blue-card option — a way for undocumented immigrants to work to normalize their status and possibly obtain a path to citizenship.
“I think it’s somewhere around 50 percent unauthorized workers” in agriculture, Cobb said. “Temporary workers can’t get here to do the work in our region.”
She proposes a three- to five-year guest worker visa to help dairy farmers who need year-round, consistent help.
The interconnected aspects of foreign and domestic policy, and the scarcity of funding, are common themes of Kahn’s immigration proposals.
“There are a lot of segments of our country, including segments of District 21, where we don’t have enough resources for our own citizens,” she said. “I think the way we spend money on national security takes away from the investment in local communities.”
WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine declared Friday she will vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, all but ensuring that a deeply riven Senate will elevate the conservative jurist to the nation’s highest court despite allegations that he sexually assaulted women decades ago.
The dramatic Senate floor announcement by perhaps the chamber’s most moderate Republican ended the suspense over a tortuous, election-season battle that had left Kavanaugh’s fate in doubt for nearly a month after the first accusation against him. It assured a victory for President Donald Trump’s quest to move the Supreme Court rightward, perhaps for decades, and a satisfying win for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the GOP’s conservative base.
Moments after Collins finished talking, the only remaining undeclared lawmaker, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, said he, too, would vote “yes” in the showdown confirmation roll call expected Saturday afternoon. Manchin, the only Democrat supporting Kavanaugh, faces a competitive re-election race next month in a state Trump carried in 2016 by 42 percentage points.
Support by Collins and Manchin gives Kavanaugh at least 51 votes in the 100-member Senate for an election-season victory against the backdrop conflict of the #MeToo movement and staunch conservative support for Trump. Both parties are hoping the bitter struggle will energize their most loyal voters to stream to the polls in less than five weeks, when GOP control of the House and perhaps the Senate is in play.
“We will be ill-served in the long run if we abandon the presumption of innocence and fairness, tempting though it may be,” Collins said in remarks that stretched for more than 40 minutes but addressed the sexual-abuse allegations only near the end. “We must always remember that it is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy.”
Collins said Christine Blasey Ford’s dramatic testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week describing Kavanaugh’s alleged 1982 assault on her were “sincere, painful and compelling.” But Collins said witnesses Ford had identified who were interviewed by the FBI last week and included in a report the agency gave lawmakers had failed to corroborate Ford’s claims.
“I do not believe that those charges can fairly prevent Judge Kavanaugh from serving on the court,” Collins said.
Manchin said in a written statement, “My heart goes out to anyone who has experienced any type of sexual assault in their life. However, based on all of the information I have available to me, including the recently completed FBI report, I have found Judge Kavanaugh to be a qualified jurist who will follow the Constitution and determine cases based on the legal findings before him.”
Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a fellow moderate and a friend of
Collins, is the only Republican who has indicated she will vote no. She told reporters Friday that Kavanaugh is “a good man” but maybe “not the right man for the court at this time.”
Republicans hold a bare 51-49 majority in the Senate.
Vice President Mike Pence has planned to be available Saturday in case his tie-breaking vote was needed, which now seems unlikely.
Kavanaugh’s path to the court seemed unfettered until mid-September, when Ford accused him of drunkenly sexually assaulting her in a locked bedroom at a 1982 high school gathering. Two other women later emerged with sexual misconduct allegations from the 1980s, all of which Kavanaugh has denied.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who’s repeatedly battled Trump and will retire in January, said he’d vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation “unless something big changes.”
In a procedural vote Friday, senators voted 51-49 to limit debate and send the nomination to the full Senate, defeating Democratic efforts to scuttle the nomination with endless delays. That was the day’s first GOP victory in the spellbinding battle that’s been fought against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement and stalwart conservative support for Trump.
Deeply coloring the day’s events was a burning resentment by partisans on both sides, on and off the Senate floor.
STONY CREEK — The operators of Stony Creek Ranch Resort told Warren County supervisors last week they had gotten permission from the federal Railroad Administration to operate a “Polar Express” holiday train later this year, but the Railroad Administration said this week that the company’s application was not granted.
While the owners of the ranch and their partners in the rail venture have unveiled some details of their plan, whether Warren County will allow the company to use the rails this year hinges on the ranch paying an unspecified amount of county occupancy tax money county leaders contend the company owes. The past due bill was revealed in correspondence obtained by The Post-Star through a Freedom of Information Law request.
Occupancy tax money comes from a 4 percent room tax that businesses charge guests. The businesses are legally required to forward the money to the county Treasurer’s Office.
County Treasurer Michael Swan said a business’ occupancy tax status is confidential under county and state law. But county officials said the Treasurer’s Office was in the process of putting a lien on the ranch property, a process that would result in a public filing.
The new railroad company has been named Stony Creek & Hudson Ralway, and will not be affiliated with Saratoga & North Creek Railway, the company that bailed earlier this year on its contract to operate on the stretch of rail line between Saratoga Springs and North Creek. Stony Creek Ranch Resort had been a base for SNCR trains last winter, but SNCR is not part of the new venture.
Instead, the owners of the ranch are trying to get a 45-day permit from Warren County and the Railroad Administration to run trains on a section of rail line in Stony Creek and Thurman between Nov. 15 and Dec. 31. The popular Polar Express show would be offered on the train, and ranch co-owner Scott McLean said the rail venture could attract 25,000 people to the region and result in 75 additional jobs, attracting additional themed train trips.
The McLeans first approached county supervisors in July about the idea, but county leaders had not heard any more about the plan until the McLeans attended a meeting last week with a pamphlet outlining their proposal.
County supervisors expressed concern about the months of delay in planning and seeking approvals, and provided the venture’s principals with a list of requirements, such as proof of insurance, federal approval, project timelines and a commitment not to store rail cars on the line. They had not been met as of Friday.
Warren Flatau, a spokesman for the federal Railroad Administration, said there have “been discussions” with Stony Creek & Hudson Railway representatives, but approval had not been granted as of Friday.
A phone message left at the ranch on Thursday was not returned as of Friday afternoon.
Horicon Supervisor Matt Simpson, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors Public Works Committee, which oversees the county rail line, said county officials have not heard from the Railroad Administration about federal approval.
Whether the event can go on for this year’s holiday season depends on whether the owners of Stony Creek Ranch Resort can satisfy supervisors’ concerns.
“The more quickly you can get information to us, the more quickly we can resolve the questions we have,” Warrensburg Supervisor Geraghty told Scott McLean at last week’s meeting.
BALLSTON SPA — The stepson of a man who was shot and nearly killed in Moreau last October testified Friday about the shooting, stating that an argument at a small gathering preceded the shooter returning with a rifle.
Charles Miles, 20, told a Saratoga County jury about the Oct. 8 attack in the garage of his Laurel Road home that left Michael Desnoyers paralyzed.
He said shooting suspect Joey M. Castro became increasingly combative as he hung out and drank beer with Desnoyers and several others, at several points making lewd remarks to Desnoyers’ girlfriend.
The talk eventually transitioned to boxing skills, and Castro wanted to fight Miles, but Miles declined the offer. The group urged Castro, their next-door neighbor, to leave as things got more tense.
“He said we were being dicks and he was going to get his brother,” Miles recalled.
Instead, Castro returned with a semiautomatic assault-style rifle, fired toward the group in the garage and yelled, “Do you still think it’s funny? Do you want to get (expletive) shot?” Miles testified.
Miles said he heard three shots, and the third shot hit his stepfather and he fell to the garage floor.
Miles testified for all of Friday afternoon in the second day of testimony in Castro’s trial over the shooting.
Castro, 25, faces felony charges of attempted murder, assault, criminal possession of a weapon and lesser counts for the shooting last Oct. 8 that left Desnoyers paralyzed from the waist down and near death. He is accused of using an AR-15-style rifle that he did not register with the state, as required.
Miles testified calmly, telling the jury he suffered some sort of leg injury during the pandemonium in the garage as shots rang out.
Castro’s defense lawyer, William Montgomery, has tried to point the finger toward Castro’s identical twin brother, Jeffrey Castro. Police said Jeffrey Castro had been at the party earlier in the night, but had left and was not present for the shooting.
Jeffrey Castro later pleaded guilty to a felony criminal possession of a weapon charge for possession of an illegal assault rifle that police found in the Castros’ home, and he is expected to testify during his brother’s trial.
Despite the defense attempts to cast doubt as to the shooter’s identity, Miles said Joey Castro and Jeffrey Castro were distinguishable, with Joey being stockier, with a different beard, and the two having different voices and tattoos.
The man who fired the shots was the person he knew as Joey, wearing a green Boston Celtics T-shirt and black sweatpants, as Joey Castro had worn minutes earlier when he stormed away from the Desnoyers home, Miles said.
Montgomery cross-examined the first police officer to arrive on the shooting scene, Trooper Tanner Close, about what efforts he went to when taking Joey Castro into custody when arriving in the neighborhood.
Close said Joey Castro was sitting on the front steps of his home when he arrived, and he took him into custody as Miles, and another man who was at Denoyers’ home, walked over and identified him as the shooter.
Joey Castro apparently told the trooper, “I don’t know what you are talking about,” but the jury was not allowed to hear that remark because of legal hearsay rules. Saratoga County Judge James Murphy told Montgomery that his client will have to testify if he wants the jury to hear about that comment.
Testimony is to resume Tuesday.
Joey Castro is free on bail, and faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of either attempted second-degree murder or first-degree assault, and possible consecutive sentences for the lesser charges.