- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 15, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Federal immigration policy and concerns about preserving New Mexico’s Native American and centuries-old Hispanic cultures were at the forefront of a congressional candidate forum Tuesday, as six Democrats compete for an open Albuquerque-based seat in primary elections.

In the audience of about 50 spectators, Ana Marquez of Albuquerque said she was listening intently to statements about the future immigration status of young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children - as she was - and depend upon provisions of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The 28-year-old office assistant, who was brought to the U.S. as an infant, said she left the forum with a sense of support from every candidate, but felt the strongest connection with attorney Damian Lara.

On the forum stage, Lara showed the greatest fluency and comfort with the Spanish language as he described his own background as a childhood immigrant and field worker who went on to earn a law degree.

He reminded the audience that the Trump administration has moved to revoke the legal status not only of young “Dreamers” but also immigrant parents of children who are either legal residents or citizens, and do away with the temporary protected status of people fleeing natural disasters and instability in Central America and the Caribbean.

“Dreamers” is a reference to never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act that would have allowed young immigrants who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children to remain in the country if they meet certain criteria.

“We’ll have to increase the amount of family-based visas so that loved ones aren’t waiting 10, 20, sometimes 25 or more years to get into this country,” said Lara, who touted his prior experience working on legislation for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in Washington, D.C.

Displeasure with Trump on issues of immigration and border security was on prominent display among Democrats.

Former law professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez suggested freezing federal funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement while the office is investigated for “inhumane” arrest and detention practices. Her candidacy has the backing of the Latino Victory Fund, a progressive political group that says it will spend $320,000 in advertising to highlight her accomplishments on behalf of women and Hispanics.

The evening forum at the University of New Mexico was specifically geared toward Latino and other minority communities. Idalia Lechuga-Tena, a former state lawmaker who emigrated from Mexico as a child, led the nearly two-hour discussion, welcoming seven candidates from three political parties. Only Pat Davis, an Albuquerque city council member, did not attend.

Questions touched on concerns about access to health care in communities of color and proposals on reforming the wage gap between men and women, and whites and minorities.

A separate candidate forum that focuses exclusively on immigration issues is scheduled for Wednesday, with sponsors that include The New Mexico Dream Team that advocates for families that include people living in the country without legal permission.

Former state lawmaker Janice Arnold-Jones, the sole Republican candidate, expressed support for President Trump’s effort to build a border wall in so far as it will fix broken security efforts.

“If you believe that the wall is a way to secure our borders, then I’m for securing our borders,” she said. She hinted at support for a scaled-back version of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals for those currently aged 18 or younger.

The field of Democratic candidates in the June 5 primary is marked by its ethnic, racial and social diversity.

Debra Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, aspires to be the nation’s first Native American congresswoman. Damon Martinez, a career prosecutor dismissed last year from his job as U.S. attorney by President Trump’s administration, traces his family roots to New Mexico’s Spanish colonial era.

Davis is vying to become New Mexico’s first openly gay member of Congress. Thirty-year-old business consultant Paul Moya said he wants to become the youngest Hispanic congressman ever to cast a vote.

A Republican has not represented New Mexico’s central, largely urban congressional district since 2009.

Libertarian candidate Lloyd Princeton is campaigning on promises to improve the state’s near last-place ranking in many socio-economic studies.

Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham won’t seek re-election to Congress as she runs for governor in a three-way Democratic primary.

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