U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth talks health care, immigration at SIU town hall

CARBONDALE, IL — From health care for veterans to immigration reform, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth answered questions about some of her top priorities in Congress.

Friday evening, the Democrat representing Illinois hosted a joint town hall meeting with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. The event allowed attendees to ask her about her stance on important issues.

“I think it is fundamental to our democracy and who we are as a nation, and it sets us apart from other nations around the world where people don’t have the freedom to express their opinions to their elected officials,” Duckworth said.

Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who lost her legs after the helicopter she was piloting was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2004, received a Purple Heart and retired from military service in 2014 as a lieutenant colonel. She then served for two terms representing Illinois’ 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives before she was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016.

During Friday’s town hall, Duckworth was asked about immigration. She said she’d like comprehensive immigration reform.

“Those who have come here illegally, while there should be a path to citizenship, there should be some penalties for having broken the law while others have tried to do it the right way. Fees, fines, penalties, go to the end of the line, whatever that is,” said Duckworth. “But it must be something that’s practical, and it has to be humane. And ultimately, what’s happening in this country under President Trump’s zero-tolerance policy is inhumane. It is un-American and it is inhumane.”

With that in mind, Duckworth joined Sen. Dick Durbin and other Democratic senators Friday to introduce the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act, which they say would end family separations, except in certain cases, and do other things to improve the treatment of migrant children.

“The separation of families, the criminalization of people seeking protections from persecution back home, people seeking a better life, people who are fleeing criminals, to criminalize their actions when — I have a 15-month-old daughter. I cannot imagine looking at my 15-month-old child and deciding the very best thing I can do for her is to take her on a thousand-mile trek with only what I could carry, risking criminals, giving up everything that I own, and then hoping to be allowed across the border and then not, and then thinking still — out of desperation — that the best thing I can do for her is to jump into the river and try to swim across. That’s not who we are as a country,” said Duckworth. “We need comprehensive immigration reform. We need a guest-worker program.”

At the town hall, an audience member then asked Duckworth about health care for veterans.

“We must keep VA around and we must keep VA available to veterans. But we can adjust the way VA works. And the reason VA is important is because VA understands the veterans’ era of service,” Duckworth told the audience. “If you are right now a 65 to 70-year-old veteran and you go to your family doctor, and you get diagnosed with diabetes, you’re gonna get good care for that diabetes and they’ll take care of you. But if that same person goes to the VA, that same man goes to the VA, there’s a, ‘Oh, are you a Vietnam veteran? Well then, let’s check you for ischemic heart disease, leukemia, prostate cancer and all of these other conditions that occur five times more often in men who served in Vietnam than the general male population.’ The VA is going to check for all those other conditions.”

After the town hall, Local 6 asked Duckworth about Alex Acosta stepping down as labor secretary, the latest in the record turnover at the Trump Administration.

“So there are huge numbers, something like 40 percent of these presidential appointee positions across government that have been left unfilled, and are currently being occupied by ‘acting.’ And the president said he wants to do that. That way, they don’t have to be Senate-confirmed, so he doesn’t have to answer the United States Senate, which takes away my ability to do my job and provide the checks and balances that the people of Illinois have voted for me to go into the office to do,” said Duckworth.

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