U.S. Rep. Phil Roe speaking at the town hall meeting in Jonesborough Monday night. (Dave Boyd/ Johnson City Press)
There were a variety of government-related hot topics discussed at Monday night’s town hall meeting with U.S. Rep. Phil Roe in Jonesborough, but the auditorium inside the International Storytelling Center perked up considerably when it came to issues regarding immigration, veterans and veterans benefits and the Defense of Marriage Act.
The meeting, which started at 6, opened with a brief overview of items, including Social Security, energy and the U.S. immigration policy, before questions written by audience members prior to the start of the meeting were read aloud for Roe to answer.
Roe’s first question was immigration-related. He was asked how illegal immigrants get Social Security numbers now and why are they honored.
Before Roe could answer, a man in the audience spoke up and said he refused to be called “illegal,” which prompted applause from a few, as well as clear opposition from some in attendance.
After identifying what’s considered legal and illegal with immigration, Roe spoke on border control and said that “the law states that you have to meet certain metrics to come into a country. When you come into the country and break the law, it’s either legal or illegal, so you would be an illegal resident. You have to have some control of your borders, and I can tell you, there is no country in the world that allows immigration like we do. None.”
Backtracking to the original question, Roe said Social Security cards can be counterfeited and that it is happening in the country. He then added that the E-Verify system, an Internet-based system that allows businesses to find out the eligibility of their employees to work in the U.S., would help prevent that from happening.
When asked about whether or not there would be any funding in the new immigration bill for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department, Roe said he had not viewed the Senate bill enough and said there were many unnecessary items in the bills.
“It just passed Friday. It’s a 1,200-page bill. We need to do these bills in pieces where people can understand,” he said. “We do need a system where people can come (to the country legally). We need to make that simpler and easier to do. The other thing you can’t do is you can’t allow people who came here illegally to step in front of the line of people who came legally.”
A woman in the audience, a newly authorized U.S. citizen, spoke on issues of cost to become a U.S. citizen and said she did not like the term “illegal” being used to classify immigrants coming into the country.
Heated discussion about legal and illegal continued to ignite the crowd before switching to veterans and their benefits.
Roe first asked veterans in the audience to stand to be recognized for their service, before discussing the three things he said when taking his office that he would never apologize for spending money on, which included two things related to veterans.
“No. 1, if you’re a solider in harm’s way, you’re fighting a battle, I want you to have everything you possibly need to protect yourself and your buddies. I don’t care where you are. I’ve been to Afghanistan and seen ... (the) remarkable job those men and women are doing under horrific conditions,” he said.
He said the second thing he would never apologize for spending money on would be the wounded warriors who return home injured from combat.
A wounded veteran in the audience stood up and gave those in attendance figures related to digital medical records for veterans and the reality of an estimated more than 900,000 veterans who are waiting on decisions regarding claims.
Roe, after commenting on the issue, said he intends to stay on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee as long as he’s in Congress.
He also spoke briefly on the ruling from the Supreme Court on the Defense of Marriage Act.
“The Supreme Court really did what I, personally, thought should have been to start. I think it should have been a state issue,” Roe said. “Marriage is a state issue, and what the Supreme Court did is they kicked it back down to the states and said in Tennessee, where we have defined marriage as between one man and one woman, that’s the law of the land here.”
He also addressed issues regarding debt, including national and student loan debt, and said simply that as a country we have to get debt under control and said it was unfair to leave younger generations to pay for the debt.