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Domenici Conference to address immigration furor

LAS CRUCES – This year’s Domenici Public Policy Conference will focus on the critical issues of national defense, the changing political landscape and immigration ahead of the midterm elections.

“This is one of the finest public policy conferences in this region,” said Garrey Carruthers, director of the Domenici Institute at New Mexico State University. “It’s always been disparate points of view, both parties represented when it comes to politics.”

U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici died last year on the morning the conference began, turning the event into a memorial of sorts.

This year, his close friend and fellow lawmaker, former Sen. Sam Nunn, will speak about the Domenici legacy. The men served together in the Senate for 24 years and often worked on a bipartisan agenda that seems from a bygone era, especially after the recent death of Sen. John McCain.

“One wonders how we’re going to get the people’s business done if we don’t have a McCain or a Domenici who can reach across the aisle and work with other people to get the job done,” Carruthers said.

The agenda for the two-day event at the Las Cruces Convention Center, which starts Wednesday, includes 11 speakers.

Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce, both sitting members of Congress running for governor, are invited. Conference organizers are hopeful they will attend but said it depends on what is happening in Washington on those days since Congress is back in session.

Kristin Soltis Anderson, a partner in an opinion research and data analytics firm and author of “The Selfie Vote: Where Millennials are leading America (and How Republicans can keep up),” will offer insight on the current political climate.

Democratic political consultant and commentator James Carville, who has run several successful political campaigns, will provide analysis ahead of the midterm elections.

Four speakers will focus on immigration policy, among them Alan Kraut, a professor of history at American University, who will put the issue in historical context.

“Anti-immigrant sentiment is not something new but rather has been a part, a perennial, if you will, of the American experience,” Kraut said.

In the 19th century, immigrants had a saying, “America beckons but Americans repel,” that captured the sentiment, he said.

Currently, immigration is a divisive political issue as the Trump administration pushes ahead with hard-line enforcement policies. Kraut said the zero-tolerance policy that separated families is likely to have a long-term impact on the kids who saw their parents taken away, just as it did on Domenici when he was a child.

“He witnessed his mother being taken away by federal agents during the Second World War,” Kraut said. “She was then later released and got her citizenship, but at one point of the Congress he actually related the experience.”

In 2007, in a speech during debate about a failed immigration bill, Domenici said his mother had been an undocumented immigrant from Italy.

A select group of 20 students from various New Mexico universities and colleges will serve as panelists, asking questions of the speakers during the conference. Organizers expect half of the 1,000 people attending the event to be students.