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Politics and Elections

Right-Wing Challenger Tim Donnelly Stresses Immigration Against Fellow GOP, IE Congressman Paul Cook

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In 2016, Yucca Valley Republican Congressman Paul Cook faced a re-election challenge from the far left.  Now he's facing one from the far right wing of his own party, in fellow Republican former state legislator Tim Donnelly.  KVCR's Benjamin Purper has more.

After leaving the California Assembly, Tim Donnelly’s political future was unclear. He ran unsuccessful campaigns for governor in 2014 and Congress in 2016. 

But a lot has changed since then. With the presidency of Donald Trump bringing hardline conservative immigration policy into the mainstream, Donnelly has found his fortunes reversed.

A former member of the Minutemen and staunch opponent of illegal immigration, Donnelly is now facing incumbent Congressman Paul Cook to represent California’s 8th District. In this year’s June primary, Donnelly got 23 percent of the vote to Cook’s 41 percent.

Now, Donnelly is hoping his conservative credentials on immigration will help him close that gap.

“I'm fighting to become a Congressman so I can represent the people of my district who feel like they have no voice. I'm not going to another country, I'm not running away, I'm not moving to Texas, I'm staying right here and I am fighting for my rights and I'm fighting for the people that are disenfranchised, the people who feel left out, the people who are the forgotten Americans,” Donnelly says.

We asked Donnelly about an immigration issue that recently popped up in his district. In June, Immigration and Customs Enforcement started placing immigrants detained while crossing the border in a federal prison facility in Victorville. Donnelly says he doesn’t have a problem with housing them with federal prisoners.

“Well, in California you have a state government that has gone berserk and they have limited any building of new detention facilities. So if you are the immigration authorities, if you're ICE, if you're border patrol in California and you're operating in California, you have to be creative.” 

Staff at the Victorville complex have objected to the influx of people, saying that they were already understaffed as it is. Donnelly says that as Congressman, he’d support efforts to increase staffing to keep up with all the new detainees.

“I would trust the people who run the place to make sure that they have sufficient staff, and I would support their efforts, certainly. There are things that you would have power over, we do have power over the budget. So in terms of the budget, yes, would I be in favor of hiring a few more people if you're going to bring in 1,000? Absolutely, because that addresses the safety of the guards and the personnel at the federal detention center, absolutely.”

But Donnelly does say that he’d rather the immigrants not be in that particular facility. He thinks they should all be deported.

“I really don't think we should be housing them at all. In the past we simply deported them. I think when people are picked up by Border Patrol or ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and they are found to be in the country illegally which makes them technically and legally an illegal alien, on U.S. soil, they should be immediately deported. I think this business of holding people for long periods of time makes no sense.”

“And certainly there shouldn't be any criminal penalties in our judicial system for them for simply crossing the border illegally. The penalty, if it were even to be described as such, is simply to be returned to their home country.”

We asked Donnelly about another immigration issue in the headlines: how does he feel about the separation of children from their parents at the border? Donnelly says that’s a question that be posed to the immigrant parents themselves.

“I think it's a really, really good question for the parents who have brought their children illegally. I think they should be asked that question. I know that - I have children. And I would not engage in a behavior that would put me at risk to be separated from my children. You know, that's why I didn't commit a life of crime, because I could've been separated and sent off to prison, and my children would be left on the streets to fend for themselves.”

Donnelly says he isn’t anti-immigration, he is anti-illegal immigration. When asked a question using the word “immigrants,” Donnelly clarified the difference he sees between “immigrants” and “illegal aliens.”

“No, see - you said immigrants. That's a huge mistake. Because there are immigrants, immigrants are people who come through the front door. They're people like my wife's grandfather. And they pay huge costs to become American citizen. And so when you asked me if I have sympathy for people who might be momentarily separated from their child until they choose to actually do the right thing and go join their child wherever their child is, but they did everything illegally and did it all the wrong way and now they're mad, there are consequences.”

“No, I don't feel empathy for them. I do feel tremendous empathy for the people who are trying to do it the right way, who get screwed over every chance. And so, one of the things I want to do when I go to Congress is fix that.”

Donnelly has a number of issues that are important to his platform, including veterans’ rights and protecting the 2nd amendment. But he says immigration and border security are his number one issue.

“My number one priority is to get our borders secured. I have fought on the issue of illegal immigration and securing our border for over a decade and a half, and so for me, that has been the driving force for me. In part because it affects the families of those who are serving, and I never wanted to, since I didn't serve in the military, I didn't want to look them in the eye and say, yeah while you were off fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, we left the back door of the country open, and I'm sorry that your family was affected.”

Paul Cook, the incumbent Congressman for the 8th District, declined to give an interview to KVCR. However, he did issue a statement on the immigrant detainees sent to the federal prison in Victorville:

“I’m extremely concerned about the staff shortages at the Victorville Federal Correctional Complex. I’m working with my colleagues and the administration to try and secure additional resources and personnel to deal with the influx of detainees. This situation also illustrates the need to do more to secure our borders, specifically increasing the resources and personnel available to our border patrol and constructing physical barriers to regain control of our southern border. We’ve also got end the incentives that promote illegal immigration, particularly chain migration, and crack down on the dangerous criminals that control most of the smuggling routes along the border.”

Donnelly and Cook will face off for the 8th District’s Congressional seat this November.